A decade certainly makes a difference, especially when considering how political attitudes have changed regarding behavioral healthcare. Speaking at NatCon 2016 during the conference kickoff, Linda Rosenberg, president and CEO of the National Council for Behavioral Health, pointed out some telling comparisons between the perspectives of today and those of 2006.
For example, in 2006, NatCon in Orlando hosted just 1,000 attendees, compared to the nearly 5,000 attending NatCon in Las Vegas this year. At the time, few political leaders even considered mental health and addiction solutions for their platforms, and parity was on the backburner. Today, every presidential candidate has a plan to improve behavioral health, and it remains an issue at the forefront of policy circles.
First Lady Michelle Obama recorded a short message to address the NatCon attendees, reminding them, “Your work is vitally important and urgently needed.” Additionally, the audience watched a montage of clips from presidential candidate speeches, including Hillary Clinton, who said, “We need more treatment, we need more facilities, we need more support,” to a an echo of applause from NatCon viewers.
Few would have predicted 10 years ago, that a policy like the Comprehensive Addiction and Recovery Act of 2015 (CARA) (S. 524/ H.R. 953) would be on its way to a vote in the full Senate, Rosenberg said. She believes CARA is a good start to begin building a better system, but it’s not enough.
“If you had cancer, you’d get chemotherapy,” she said. “It wouldn’t depend on a grant. And it shouldn’t depend on a grant for us either.”
Call for solutions
Rosenberg also advocated for adding medication-assisted treatment to 12-Step programs and for challenging insurers to cover the care that is necessary for sustained recovery.
“Short-term solutions are not enough,” she said. “We need ongoing treatment and recovery supports in every community, and we need insurance to pay the bill.”
She called for healthcare leaders to innovate solutions to address the social determinants of health, such as poverty and housing situations. It’s a well known fact that only 10% of health is determined by the care that is received, while the lion’s share is determined by a confluence of other factors that encompass behavior and socioeconomic realities. As stakeholders drive more population health initiatives, behavioral health providers will become increasingly more vital to improving outcomes and reducing costs.
“Over the last 10 years, I have come to understand that race, class and privilege are at the heart of health disparities, and that poverty and untreated trauma are exacting life-long consequences,” Rosenberg said.
She challenged the audience to look deeper into whether the prevailing cultural competency really improves care.
Rather than allowing such contentious issues to galvanize the industry, the path forward is to speak in a unified voice and gain the attention and cooperation of lawmakers. NatCon Hill Day last year resulted in 300 meetings in Congressional offices and more than 73 million social media impressions, she said.
Rosenberg called for behavioral health leaders to help drive support for a proposal to expand the Excellence in Mental Health Act from the current provision for eight practical demonstration states to 24 states. Expanding the program would allow for pilot testing of more models of Certified Behavioral Health Clinics, which are in their earliest stages of development now.
“We are far from finished,” Rosenberg said. “If we make the effort, no matter how hard it sometimes seems, laws can be passed and consciences can be stirred.”