Senators Introduce Bill To Boost Community Mental Health Services
On Thursday, a bipartisan group of senators introduced legislation (S 264) that would expand and improve the availability of community mental health services, The Hill's "Healthwatch" reports (Viebeck, "Healthwatch," The Hill, 2/7).
Sens. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.), Roy Blunt (R-Mo.), Susan Collins (R-Maine), Patrick Leahy (D- Vt.), Jack Reed (D- R.I.), Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) and Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.) introduced the legislation at the Capitol alongside filmmaker David O. Russell.
Russell is the director and screenwriter of "Silver Linings Playbook," a film about individuals with mental health issues that was inspired in part by Russell's son, who has bipolar disorder (Dennis/Kane, Washington Post, 2/7).
The measure is Congress' latest response to a spate of mass-casualty shootings in recent years, which have sparked a national debate over the U.S. mental health system ("Healthwatch," The Hill, 2/7).
Details of Bill
The bill -- called the Excellence in Mental Health Act -- would set service standards for about 2,000 federally qualified community behavioral health centers (Washington Post, 2/7).
The standards established in the legislation would require such centers to offer a range of services, including:
- 24-hour crisis care;
- Support for families of individuals with mental health issues; and
- Increased integration of mental health and substance use disorder treatment.
Facilities that meet the criteria would be able to bill Medicaid for their services, similar to the Medicaid reimbursement system used by federally qualified health centers (Barr, Modern Healthcare, 2/7).
Comments on Bill
Stabenow said the measure would increase access to mental health services by helping an additional 1.5 million individuals receive treatment, as well as about 200,000 more veterans returning from Iraq and Afghanistan ("Healthwatch," The Hill, 2/7). According to Sabenow, the group did not have a cost estimate for the bill but predicted that it would cost about $1 billion over a decade, which primarily would come from existing funds.
She said, "One of the reasons this is so important and really sets the stage for integrating behavioral health into physical health centers is that we are using something that already exists." She added that Rep. Doris Matsui (D-Calif.) -- author of a failed 2012 House version of the bill -- is likely to introduce similar legislation in the House (Kucinich, USA Today, 2/7).
Lawmakers Seek Answers About 2007 Mental Health Recommendations
In related news, six members of the House Energy and Commerce Committee on Thursday sent a letter to HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius asking for status updates on recommendations made after the 2007 mass-casualty shooting at Virginia Tech, The Hill's "RegWatch," reports.
The letter -- signed by committee Chair Fred Upton (R-Mich.) and Reps. Marsha Blackburn (R-Tenn.), Michael Burgess (R-Texas), Diana DeGette (D-Colo.), Tim Murphy (R-Pa.) and Henry Waxman (D-Calif.) -- states, "Some of the recommendations made in the report following Virginia Tech appear to be similar to proposals that were presented by the President on Jan. 16, 2013, after the Newtown tragedy, to address concerns about access to mental health treatment."It continues, âIn order to determine what actions were taken after previous tragedies and whether those actions were effective, the committee seeks information on the status of HHS' efforts to implement the recommendations made in the 2007 report following the Virginia Tech shootings" (Goad, "RegWatch, The Hill, 2/7). This is part of the California Healthline Daily Edition, a summary of health policy coverage from major news organizations. Sign up for an email subscription.