Congress Poised To Pass First Major New Mental Health Legislation Since Sandy Hook

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"Congress Poised To Pass First Major New Mental Health Legislation Since Sandy Hook"

Sens. Debbie Stabenow (D-MI), center, and Roy Blunt (R-MO), right, introduce bipartisan mental health legislation in February

Sens. Debbie Stabenow (D-MI), center, and Roy Blunt (R-MO), right, introduce bipartisan mental health legislation in February 2013

CREDIT: National Council For Behavioral Health

Congress is set to advance the first major new federal legislation to address the American mental health care system since the horrific mass shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School over one year ago. This week, the House of Representatives passed a version of the Excellence In Mental Health Act.

The House adopted the Excellent In Mental Health Act as an amendment to a so-called “doc fix” bill that the chamber passed on a voice vote on Thursday. The doc fix is meant to prevent steep cuts — an average of about 20 percent — to payments that are made to Medicare doctors. Congress has regularly had to delay the cuts every year since 1997, when they were first implemented. Although lawmakers on both sides of the aisle and the medical lobby strongly support a permanent doc fix to reduce doctors’ and patients’ uncertainty, Congress has consistently had to settle for temporary delays.

Despite early hopes to the contrary, this year was no different and doesn’t represent a permanent policy change. But there is another difference. This year’s temporary doc fix legislation, which is expected to get final approval in the Senate early next week, would also advance some areas of mental health care.

The legislation would “establish criteria for certified community behavioral health clinics to ensure the providers cover a broad range of mental health services — including 24-hour crisis care, increased integration of physical, mental, and substance abuse treatment so they are treated simultaneously rather than separately, and expanded support for families of people living with mental health issues,” according to a press release from Sen. Debbie Stabenow’s (D-MI) office.

Stabenow and Sen. Roy Blunt (R-MO) introduced the original version of the Excellence In Mental Health Act in early 2013, in Sandy Hook’s immediate aftermath. Blunt praised the House’s adoption of the legislation in a statement.

“The House took an important step forward by passing this bipartisan proposal, which Senator Stabenow and I have long championed in the Senate,” said Blunt. “Approximately one in four adults suffer from a diagnosable mental disorder each year across America. We’ve got a model that works, and now is the time for the Senate to act.”

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