Today, Representatives Doris Matsui (D-CA) and Leonard Lance (R-NJ), both members of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, introduced legislation to address our nation's fragmented mental health system by strengthening America's community mental health centers. The Excellence in Mental Health Act would increase access to mental health treatment and improve the quality of care provided to ensure people get the care they need.
"It is time for mental health to be treated on a level playing field with the rest of our nation's healthcare system. The federal government must step up and protect the mental health safety net, which has faced tremendous struggles across the country," said Congresswoman Matsui. "Members on both sides of the aisle recognize that now is the time to bolster funding and services for mental health care and ensure all Americans have access to the treatment they need. The bipartisan Excellence in Mental Health Act will address our nation's fragmented mental health system by enhancing Medicaid funding for community mental health centers that offer evidence-based treatment and support for millions of vulnerable people with mental health disorders."
"Although many gun-control proposals remain contentious, members of Congress from both sides of the aisle agree that improving mental health care must be a part of any broader effort to reduce gun violence," said Congressman Leonard Lance. "I am proud to join Congresswoman Doris Matsui and my colleagues in the U.S. House and Senate in introducing the Excellence in Mental Health Act. This important bill is aimed at expanding and improving access to mental health services at community clinics around the country so that we can better identify and treat those at risk of violent behavior."
The Excellence in Mental Health Act would provide incentives to our nation's community mental health centers to ensure the centers cover a broad range of mental health services, including: 24-hour crisis care, increased integration of physical, mental and substance abuse treatment, and expanded support for families of people living with mental health issues. Centers that met these strengthened accountability standards would qualify to bill Medicaid, just as Federally Qualified Health Centers currently do for treatment of physical healthcare.
This legislation also expands access to our nation's 2,000 community mental health centers by supporting the expansion of existing centers and the construction of new ones. These new measures would allow for the treatment of up to an additional 1.5 million mental health patients each year, in addition to nearly 200,000 veterans.
"Behavioral health has long been left out of the federal dictionary," said Linda Rosenberg, president and CEO of the National Council for Community Behavioral Healthcare. "As a result, mental health and addiction providers cannot receive the federal funds so critical to other safety net providers. They share the safety net's unique responsibilities, but none of the supports. The Excellence in Mental Health Act rectifies this by giving these organizations the support needed to continue helping individuals recover from mental illnesses and addictions and to reach millions more with the care they so badly need."
Rusty Selix, executive director of the Mental Health Association in California and executive director of the California Council of Community Mental Health Agencies, stated that "the Excellence in Mental Health Act is an important advance in mental health policy taking significant steps to eliminate one of the remaining areas of law in which programs providing mental health services are not treated the same as physical health providers serving the same populations. Defining and recognizing federally qualified behavioral health centers acknowledges that they are just as essential as federally qualified health centers. This will reduce the painful cycle of homelessness, incarceration and hospitalizations that is so common for people with mental illnesses who cannot get the community care that they need."
The Excellence in Mental Health Act is supported by over 36 mental health organizations, veterans groups and law enforcement organizations, including: American Psychiatric Association, National Alliance on Mental Illness, the National Council for Behavioral Healthcare, American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, Mental Health America, and National Association of Psychiatric Health Systems, among many others.
Bipartisan companion legislation in the Senate, S.264, was introduced last month by Senators Debbie Stabenow (D-MI) and Roy Blunt (R-MO), and is cosponsored by Senators Barbara Boxer (D-CA) and Marco Rubio (R-FL), among others.