U.S. Senator Debbie Stabenow, lead sponsor of the bipartisan Excellence in Mental Health Act, today praised an announcement by U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius that outlines provisions to expand access to mental health services for 62 million more Americans. The announcement outlines new standards that will take effect in 2014 to ensure mental health and substance abuse services, including behavioral health treatment, are covered as essential health benefits in all health insurance plans. Senator Stabenow authored one of the key provisions of the new standards that hold insurance companies accountable for covering mental health care in the same way as physical healthcare.
"Today's announcement is an important step toward strengthening America's mental health services and making mental health a top priority," said Stabenow. "We need to treat people who need mental health services the same as those who need physical health services. I'm glad the Administration is taking action to ensure that individuals living with behavioral disorders and their families get the care they need."
In the past, nearly 20 percent of individuals purchasing insurance didn't have access to mental health services, and nearly one third had no coverage for substance abuse services. Today's announcement by Secretary Sebelius seeks to fix that gap by expanding coverage of mental health benefits.
Earlier this month, Stabenow led a bipartisan group of senators to introduce The Excellence in Mental Health Act. Introduced in the wake of the recent tragedy in Newtown, her legislation puts Community Mental Health Centers on more equal footing with other health centers by improving quality standards and expanding access to ensure more people can get the mental health care they need. The bill will allow up to 1.5 million more Americans living with a behavioral disorder to get the care they need. With at least 25% of returning veterans from Iraq and Afghanistan experiencing some type of mental health condition, Community Mental Health Centers are expected to soon be serving 200,000 veterans. The bill is cosponsored by a bipartisan team of Senators including Debbie Stabenow, Roy Blunt (R-MO), Jack Reed (D-RI), Susan Collins (R-ME), Barbara Boxer (D-CA), Marco Rubio (R-FL) and Patrick Leahy (D-VT), Lisa Murkowski (R-AK), Mark Begich (D-AK), Jay Rockefeller (D-WV), Jon Tester (D-MT), and Chris Coons (D-DE).
David O. Russell, Oscar-nominated director of Silver Linings Playbook, joined Sen. Stabenow at the news conference announcing the bill to discuss the importance of removing the stigma associated with mental illness. Mr. Russell's experience with his son, Matthew, living with mood disorders led to his writing the screenplay (based on the book of the same name) for and directing Silver Linings Playbook, which was nominated for 8 Academy Awards this year. The film explores the life of Pat Solatano Jr. (played by Bradley Cooper), a man living with bipolar disorder who moves in with his parents following his release from a mental health institution and tries to rebuild his life. Mr. Russell discussed the need to de-stigmatize mental illness and expand coverage to ensure people get the care they need.