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Excellence in Mental Health Act introduced in Senate

December 20, 2010
by News release
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Washington, D.C. — The Excellence in Mental Health Act has been introduced in the U.S. Senate. The proposed legislation is designed to increase access to community mental health and substance use treatment services for all Americans and improve Medicaid reimbursement for those services.

Sens. Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.) and Jack Reed (D-RI) sponsored the act, which requires the federal government to establish criteria for an organization to qualify as a “Community Behavioral Health Center” (CBHC), to be reimbursed at a minimum rate—based on reasonable cost per visit incurred—for services provided to Medicaid patients.

“Every year, more than 5 million Americans are diagnosed with serious mental illnesses” said Sen. Stabenow. "Although we have made great progress in eliminating some of the stigma surrounding mental illness, access to care is still a problem for too many of these patients. My legislation will increase access to critical behavioral health services by making key investments in our nation’s mental health centers."

Sen. Reed, a member of the Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee, added: “This comprehensive approach will improve access to mental health services for those who need them most and can help reduce long-term healthcare costs.”

The Act also calls for grants for capital improvements and health information technology and services provided by CBHCs to be recognized as mandatory in state Medicaid programs. Currently, Medicaid excludes community behavioral health from the minimum reimbursement privileges available to the primary care safety net.

Linda Rosenberg, president and CEO of the National Council for Community Behavioral Healthcare, said the organization is grateful to Sens. Reed and Stabenow for leading the way with the Excellence in Mental Health Act. "It is time to end the discrimination," Rosenberg said. "America must recognize that behavioral health is integral to overall health."

Other provisions in the proposed legislation include increased resources for community behavioral health providers to adopt health information technology, make infrastructure improvements, provide telehealth services, and become eligible for discounted medicines.

In June 2010, the Mental Health and Addiction Safety Net Equity Act, HR 5636, was introduced in the U.S. House of Representatives by Reps. Doris Matsui (D-Calif.) and Eliot Engel (D-NY). That bill also seeks to establish federal status for organizations that offer treatment and supports for millions of poor and vulnerable persons with mental and addiction disorders.

“Bringing behavioral health on par with the rest of healthcare gives community providers struggling in the face of brutal budget cuts a new lease of life so they can continue to offer quality services to our most vulnerable populations. The Excellence in Mental Health Act is a milestone in public health,” said Charles Ingoglia, vice president for public policy at the National Council.

“We encourage mental health advocates nationwide to urge their members of Congress to support the Excellence in Mental Health Act as well as the Mental Health and Addiction Safety Net Equity Act. Both bills are expected to shape the future of community behavioral health in our nation," Ingoglia added.