The combined voices of 15 behavioral health organizations converging on Capitol Hill last week delivered a call to action during an annual Hill Day event. Linda Rosenberg, president and CEO of the National Council, says advocates and treatment center executives from 44 states plus Washington, D.C., participated in 227 individual meetings, which took place in the offices of federal policymakers.
“Organizations might have differences around the edges because we have different areas of expertise and different constituent groups, but we are fundamentally aligned in talking with Congressional leaders and saying that the time for awareness is past, and it is really a time for action now,” Rosenberg tells Behavioral Healthcare.
The National Council’s Hill Day has grown from a group of 35 people to more than 600 delegates in its 11 year tradition. This year’s event was held in partnership with other national advocacy organizations, such as NAMI, the Legal Action Center, the Hazelden Betty Ford Institute, Young People in Recovery and others, Rosenberg says.
“We talked about specific bills, but the overall message was about action, which must include putting money behind the policies, not just talking about it,” she says.
For example, teams recommended that their respective Congressional representatives support the set of bills related to the Comprehensive Addiction and Recovery Act (CARA)—which is scheduled for a combined House and Senate conference markup in the coming weeks—as well as actions that would appropriate federal funds to advance mental health and addiction treatment. As it stands currently, CARA authorizes spending from existing buckets of money but does not appropriate funds specifically.
“It’s the same on the mental health side—it has to be funded as well as authorized,” she says.
Rosenberg says the congressmen and their key staffers were receptive to the messages, and many said they are in fact working hard to advance legislation to increase funding, increase treatment capacity nationwide and improve access for patients and consumers. Parity enforcement was also a concern for Hill Day delegates.
“The bills are a good start, and they include grants—grants are good—but you don’t need a grant to get a stent or chemotherapy,” she says. “You don’t have to be lucky enough to go to a clinic that has a grant for that. It’s actually part of your insurance benefit, and insurance pays for those services.”
Policymakers rely heavily on their staff members to gather information and do the legwork on important issues in advance of conferences and voting opportunities. Many of the Hill Day participants had the ear of staff members, but in some cases, the elected officials themselves were available for meetings. Rosenberg says there were more direct meetings with congressmen than in previous years. In all, the delegates’ advocacy messages reached 227 policymakers.