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More work to be done after Cures bill is signed

December 8, 2016
by Julie Miller, Editor in Chief
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Industry leaders are encouraged by the bipartisan support of the 21st Century Cures Act—yet another federal action this year to improve behavioral health. The Senate voted 94-5 on Wednesday, closely following the House vote of 392 to 26 last week. President Obama has vowed to sign it as soon as it reaches his desk.

“We applaud the Senate’s passage of the 21st Century Cures Act, which includes legislative changes and allocates funding that will have a significant impact on the field of addiction medicine,” says Corey Waller, chair of the American Society of Addiction Medicine’s Legislative Advocacy Committee, on behalf of the Coalition to Stop Opioid Overdose. “We believe that this legislation will help support increased access to care and can help improve recruitment and retention of addiction treatment professionals.”

Sections of the bill call for development of evidence-based practices, which will be a turning point in addressing the opioid crisis for communities, Waller says.

Overall, advocates say that the $1 billion authorized to address addiction prevention and treatment is a good start but more will be needed. Additionally, the funding still requires an appropriation process before it can be put to work in the proposed programs.

Mental health provisions

According to Kaiser Health News, some mental health provisions in the bill were scaled back significantly in its many iterations over the past four years. For example, An earlier House version would have changed HIPAA rules to allow clinicians to share more patient information with family caregivers. The final version, however, only instructs federal health officials to clarify the current HIPAA rules.

Several mental health provisions were authored by Rep. Tim Murphy (R-Pa.) in response to the Sandy Hook tragedy on Dec. 14, 2012, when a gunman entered the school and shot 20 children and six adults.

“We are ending the era of stigma surrounding mental illness and focusing on delivering treatment before tragedy,” Murphy said in a statement.

New policies

The National Council for Behavioral Health also applauded the bill but notes that, “While Congress continues to give attention to mental health and addiction, the provisions of the Cures package do not expand the overall capacity of the nation’s behavioral healthcare system, which is needed to meet growing demand.”

The National Council is calling for an expansion of the Certified Community Behavioral Health Center demonstration program to reach beyond just eight states, as it is currently authorized. The program will begin providing participating providers who coordinate care an enhanced payment rate starting in 2017.