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Congressman calls for behavioral health reform

March 12, 2013
by Shannon Brys, Associate Editor
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Although we may not always hear government discussions regarding reform for the field, many of those on the Hill push for various topics related to behavioral healthcare, including Medicare, Medicaid, reducing stigma and health information technology. 

One of these individuals is Congressman Charles Boustany, Jr., M.D., U.S. House of Representatives (R-LA) and a member of the House Ways & Means Committee.  He shared with attendees today at the NAPHS 2013 Annual Meeting his passion for improving the U.S. healthcare system. Boustany, who is a cardio vascular surgeon and one of few physicians in Congress, said that he was pleased to recently sit in on a committee hearing in Congress in which members discussed the barriers to mental healthcare that can often lead to tragic and preventable outcomes. 

“I think all of us—whether you’re practicing medicine, administration healthcare, or in public office—have to do everything we can to dispel the stigma that attends to mental health illness,” he announced.

He recalled a memory of meeting with military members with PTSD. During this time, he had the opportunity to speak with General Pace, a retired U.S. Marine Corps General and the 16th Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, about the issue.

What stood out for Boustany, was the powerful discussion Pace shared with him that he had had with U.S. military members: “Look to your left and to your right. One out of three of you will be afflicted with PTSD. I want everybody to hear me very clearly: PTSD is a battlefield casualty. There’s no shame in having it and when faced with it, treat it as such. And if you see one of your comrades in arms who is experiencing it, help them.  Work with them and get them in the proper treatment.”

Boustany also suggested other issues that derserve Congressional attention:

  • HIT: “I think Congress needs to look at ways of how we can help facilitate the adoption of health information technology among behavioral health providers to improve quality and communication.”
  • Provider payments: “I’m concerned how every time we have to deal with spending cuts, we look at the Medicare program and then we put it on the backs of providers. I think we’ve stretched the provider community so much in recent years that it’s really getting to a breaking point,” he explained.
  • Medicare: “I firmly believe that Congress has a duty—a promise—that we need to keep to our seniors to ensure that these benefits are available and that the program is working the way it should,” he expressed.

Finally, he advised the professionals in attendance to reach out to the Congress members in their communities and develop a relationship. When that time is spent and invested in developing a relationship with that person, he said that he believes a level of trust will appear. Even doing something socially with them can help them to hear your message over and above all the other voices that exist, Boustany said.