Advocacy Alert: Cassidy, Murphy Introduce Bill to Improve, Reauthorize Historic Mental Health Reform Act Before Expiration

May 26, 2022

via Bill Cassidy's website

On May 10, 2022, U.S. Senators Bill Cassidy, M.D. (R-LA) and Chris Murphy (D-CT), members of the U.S. Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee, introduced legislation to reauthorize the historic federal mental health and substance use disorder programs that were signed into law in 2016 as part of their Mental Health Reform Act before they are set to expire in September. The Mental Health Reform Reauthorization Act of 2022 also addresses COVID-19's devastating impact on the national mental health crisis, especially among children, by building upon the 2016 legislation to improve and expand those programs.

"We all have loved ones affected by mental illness. The pandemic intensified our mental health crisis, especially amongst our children," said Dr. Cassidy. "Our bill preserves and improves upon the resources that have been a lifeline to so many Americans over the past five years."

"The Mental Health Reform Act made important strides toward getting people the mental health care they need. But now, as we face a national mental health crisis exacerbated by two years of the pandemic, the programs we created are set to expire. That's why our new bill goes further than just reauthorization – it doubles down on strengthening parity protections and expanding access to pediatric mental health. There's no time to waste, and I look forward to working with the HELP Committee to make sure it's signed into law," said Senator Murphy.

Last fall, the senators solicited feedback from patients, families, health care providers, advocacy organizations, and state, local, tribal, and territorial governments on the effectiveness of the programs created by the 2016 legislation and areas for improvement to inform the drafting of this legislation. Specifically, the Mental Health Reform Reauthorization Act of 2022 would:

Strengthen existing mental health and substance use disorder parity laws by:

  • Authorizing $25 million to support states' ability to enforce existing laws around mental health and substance use disorder parity;
  • Preventing health insurance plans that cover frontline workers from refusing to provide parity coverage.

Improve community mental health services by:

  • Authorizing a significant increase in Mental Health Services Block Grant (MHBG) funding for states to provide mental health services and promoting increased quality of programs for those with a Serious Mental Illness (SMI);
  • Reauthorize HRSA's Promoting Integration of Primary and Behavioral Health Care (PIPBHC), which places behavioral health specialists in primary care offices.

Expanding access to pediatric mental health care by:

  • Promoting increased mental health care access in schools and emergency departments through HRSA's Pediatric Mental Health Care Access Program (PMHCAP);
  • Expanding training in behavioral health for pediatricians and other primary care providers who treat children and adolescents through HRSA's Primary Care Training and Enhancement Program;
  • Reauthorizing SAMHSA's Programs for Children with Serious Emotional Disturbances.

Increasing recruitment of a diverse mental health workforce by:

  • Expanding SAMHSA's Minority Fellowship Program (MFP) through increased funding and inclusion of addiction medicine physicians to meet the need for a diverse Substance Use Disorder treatment workforce;
  • Reauthorizing HRSA's Mental and Behavioral Health Education and Training Grants to increase the supply of behavioral health professionals with a special focus on helping children, adolescents and youth at risk for behavioral health condition.

Providing a path to recovery for vulnerable individuals by:

  • Ensuring those served by SAMHSA's Grants for Jail Diversion Programs (JDP) are treated the same as any other patient by preventing unnecessary destabilizing medication changes;
  • Empowering SAMHSA's Projects for Assistance in Transition from Homelessness (PATH) program to support access to desperately needed housing for the unhoused with mental illness.

BHAP is just one of the many organizations that endorsed this bill.

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