WASHINGTON, D.C. – The U.S. Senate Finance Committee today approved the bipartisan “Excellence in Mental Health Act,” introduced by U.S. Senators Roy Blunt (Mo.) and Debbie Stabenow (Mich.) to expand access to community mental health services and strengthen the quality of care provided.
“This is an important step forward as we work to fix America’s mental health policies,” said Blunt. “We’ve got a model that works to solve these important problems. It’s time for Congress to act.”
The bill was included as an amendment to the so-called “doc fix” (SGR) bill that permanently reforms the way doctors are reimbursed by Medicare. The version of the Excellence in Mental Health Act voted for in committee today would establish pilot programs in 10 states to strengthen and improve access to care.
“Strengthening mental health services isn’t partisan. It is an important issue that touches all of our families in some way,” said Stabenow. “Our bipartisan bill expands access to care and improves quality of care so people living with mental illness can get the treatment they need. Instead of merely talking about this issue in the wake of tragedies, it is time for Congress to finally take action.”
In February 2013, Blunt and Stabenow originally introduced the Excellence in Mental Health Act, to address the nation’s fragmented mental health system by offering current Community Mental Health Centers (CMHCs) a chance to obtain the Certified Community Behavioral Health Clinic designation. The bill establishes 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.
In addition to Blunt and Stabenow, the Excellence in Mental Health Act is co-sponsored by a bipartisan group of Senators including U.S. Senators Mark Begich (Alaska), Richard Blumenthal (Conn.), Barbara Boxer (Calif.), Sherrod Brown (Ohio), Maria Cantwell (Wash.), Susan Collins (Maine), Chris Coons (Del.), Amy Klobuchar (Minn.), Patrick Leahy (Vt.), Ed Markey (Mass.), Robert Menendez (N.J.), Barbara Mikulski (Md.), Lisa Murkowski (Alaska), Chris Murphy (Conn.), Bill Nelson (Fla.), Jack Reed (R.I.), Jay Rockefeller (W.Va.), Marco Rubio (Fla.), Chuck Schumer (N.Y.), Jon Tester (Mont.), Elizabeth Warren (Mass.), and Ron Wyden (Ore.).
The bill is supported by more than 50 mental health organizations, veterans organizations and law enforcement organizations including: the National Association of Police Organizations, National Sheriffs’ Association, American Psychiatric Association, the American Psychological Association, National Alliance on Mental Illness, the National Council for Behavioral Healthcare, American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, Mental Health America, National Association of Psychiatric Health Systems, Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America and Give An Hour, among many others.
Blunt has also co-sponsored a number of mental health bills in the Senate, including:
- The “Mental Health First Aid Act of 2013,” which was introduced by U.S. Senators Mark Begich (Alaska) and Kelly Ayotte (N.H). The bill authorizes the launch of a demonstration program to support mental health first aid trainings nationwide to help more Americans identify, understand, and respond to the signs of mental illnesses and addiction disorders.
- The “Justice and Mental Health Collaboration Act,” which was introduced by U.S. Senators Al Franken (Minn.) and Mike Johanns (Neb.). The bipartisan bill would help make communities safer by improving access to mental health services for people in the criminal justice system who need treatment. The bill also focuses on giving law enforcement officers the tools they need to identify and respond to mental health issues, and includes a 5-year reauthorization of the “Mentally Ill Offender Treatment and Crime Reduction Act” (MIOTCRA), continuing support for mental health courts, and crisis intervention teams.
- And the “Mental Health Awareness and Improvement Act of 2013,” which was introduced by U.S. Senators Tom Harkin (Iowa) and Lamar Alexander (Tenn.) and reauthorizes and improves programs related to awareness, prevention, and early identification of mental health conditions.