U.S. Senator Barbara A. Mikulski (D-Md.), a senior member of the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) Committee, today participated in a hearing examining mental health care in America titled "Assessing the State of America's Mental Health System."
"We are here today because too many children and families are not getting the mental health services and supports they so desperately need," Senator Mikulski said. "We are here to talk about what is working and what we need to improve upon to have a mental health system that meets the needs of Americans throughout their lives."
Senator Mikulski has been a strong advocate for opening up access to mental health care. She has supported implementing the Wellstone Mental Health Parity Act which required private insurance plans offering mental health benefits to meet the same coverage requirements as medical and surgical benefits. Following the recent tragic shootings in Newtown, Aurora and Tucson, she has called for better screening and care for those suffering from mental illness.
The hearing included two panels. The first panel consisted of Ms. Pamela Hyde, Administrator, Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration and Dr. Thomas Insel, Director, National Institute of Mental Health at the National Institutes of Health. The second panel included Dr. Michael Hogan, Former Commissioner, New York State Office of Mental Health, and Chairman, President's New Freedom Commission on Mental Health; George DelGrosso, M.A., Executive Director, Colorado Behavioral Health Council; Robert Vero, Ed.D., Chief Executive Officer, Centerstone of Tennessee; and Larry Fricks, Senior Consultant, National Council for Behavioral Health.
Senator Mikulski's remarks, as prepared for delivery, follow:
"I wish we had a mental health system in place that better helped families and communities deal with the effects of mental illness -- improve recognition of warning signs, ensure quality of treatment and help families cope with the everyday challenges of caring for an individual with an illness. I wish it didn't take national tragedies like Sandy Hook Elementary, which claimed the lives of 20 children and six educators, and the Aurora movie theater, which claimed the lives of 12 innocent people and injured 58 others, to talk about mental illness in America.
"We are here today because too many children and families are not getting the mental health services and supports they so desperately need. We are here to talk about what is working and what we need to improve upon to have a mental health system that meets the needs of Americans throughout their lives.
"Though it's not the focus of today's hearing, the role of guns and gun violence in these recent tragedies cannot be ignored. There have been many proposals put forth by the President, my Senate colleagues, Governor O'Malley in my state and policymakers in other states to address gun violence by restricting the flow of weapons to criminals, improving school safety and strengthening the mental health system. These are proposals we must look at very closely, and I know we will in the coming weeks and months.
"But today we are focusing on our mental health system.
"I have been a longtime champion for mental health parity. We need to make sure insurers are providing comprehensive and accessible services for patients that include equal treatment for mental health and physical health, and covers inpatient and outpatient care. I continue to hear about patients who can't find a provider near their home -- who go to the ER for help because there is nowhere else to go for inpatient care. We also need to make sure our mental health programs and services at SAMHSA and CMS are adequately funded and easy to navigate for patients.
"I am also a big champion of privacy. But I remain concerned that the recent mass killings have shown that once an individual who needs help is identified, there are communication barriers which prevent people in the system from talking to one another. We need to figure out how to improve our response in a way that both protects the individual's privacy, but also ensures that professionals can respond when red flags are raised.
"I look forward to hearing from our witnesses about how we can better identify individuals in need of help, and make sure that those who need help are getting the services they need, when they need them. We must improve our response and break down the barriers that prevent people from accessing needed services.
"Our top priority must be preventing another Sandy Hook, another Aurora, another Columbine. And we must acknowledge the role that mental health played in these tragedies, and work to identify ways to get individuals and their families the treatment they need."