Just days prior to the landmark June 28 Supreme Court decision upholding the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, or ACA, some 600 behavioral health advocates converged on Capitol Hill for the National Council’s 2012 Public Policy Institute and Hill Day, an event that this year included two new partners: Mental Health America and the U.S. Psychiatric Rehabilitation Association (USPRA). This year’s swell of attendees were rewarded with the introduction of four bills to advance three pieces of national legislation that focus on improving behavioral health care nationwide:
- Excellence in Mental Health Act (H.R. 5989) — The House companion bill to Senate Bill 2257 (S. 2257), this legislation will establish national standards and oversight for Federally Qualified Community Behavioral Health Centers (FQCBHCs). These standards will bolster our nation’s community mental health and addictions system, providing new support for integrated and simplified treatment.
- Mental Health First Aid Higher Education Act (Two bills — H.R. 5996 / S. 3325) — This bill will authorize a demonstration program to train college faculty and staff in Mental Health First Aid, a community education program that helps people identify, understand, and respond to signs of mental illnesses and addictions and deal with psychiatric crises. More than 60,000 caring citizens across the U.S. have already been trained in Mental Health First Aid, a program that helps people take care of themselves and of each other.
- Behavioral Health Information Technology Act (H.R. 6043) — Much like its counterpart in the Senate (S.539), this bill will add community mental health centers, psychiatric hospitals, mental health treatment facilities, and substance abuse treatment facilities to the list of organizations eligible for federal “Meaningful Use” incentive payments for the adoption and use of electronic health records (EHRs). Currently, behavioral health organizations may only receive such incentive payments for the adoption of health information technology if they have “eligible professionals” —physicians, psychiatrists, or nurse practitioners on staff.
While both the Excellence in Mental Health Act and the Behavioral Health Information Technology Act have been introduced, but expired without approval, in previous sessions of Congress, the Mental Health First Aid in Higher Education Act is brand new.