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Blunt Urges Congress to Extend Funding for Community Mental Health Services

July 11, 2019

WASHINGTON – Today, U.S. Senator Roy Blunt (Mo.) spoke on the Senate floor to urge Congress to extend the Excellence in Mental Health and Addiction Treatment Act. The bill, which was signed into law in 2014, created an eight-state pilot program to help improve access to community-based mental health care. Missouri is one of the states participating in the pilot program, which has allowed patients to get treatment faster and closer to home, and provided law enforcement new tools to respond to people dealing with mental or behavioral health issue.

Following Are Excerpts From Blunt’s Remarks:

“I want to talk for a few minutes today about a program that we need to extend for a short period of time to get it extended to the end of this spending year.

“I'm always glad to talk about this program because what it does is really begin to close the gap between how we talk about physical health and how we talk about mental health. Somewhere between one and four and one in five adult Americans, according to the National Institutes of Health, have a mental health problem that is diagnosable and almost always treatable, but less than half of the people that have that problem actually receive the care they need. These are people that are our neighbors, our family members, our colleagues. There's no stigma to seeking care here and society needs to do a better job, as I believe this program is helping us do, to talk about mental health like all other health.

“On the last day of October 2013, which was the 50th anniversary of the Community Mental Health Act - that was the last bill that president Kennedy signed into law in 1963. … In the decades that followed, about half of the proposed community health centers that that bill anticipated just simply were never built. Facilities that people had used that had substantial mental health challenges were closed. What really happened here is that in that 50 years, the emergency room and local law enforcement became the de facto mental health system for the country and nobody has been well served by that. Local law enforcement hasn’t been well served by that, emergency rooms haven't been well served by that, and - most importantly - people with mental health challenges and their families have not been served by that.

“So this law, the Excellence in Mental Health Act, was signed into law in 2014 to try to begin to address that problem. What the bill did was create eight states in a two year pilot that would provide mental health at locations that met the standard just like any other health would be provided. These would be Certified Community Behavioral Health Clinics that would have, among other things, 24/7 crisis services available, outpatient mental health and substance abuse treatment available, immediate screenings, risk assessments and diagnosis available, and care coordination - including partnerships with the emergency room, the law enforcement community, and veterans groups. …

“I’ve been at clinics all over our state who’ve dealt with this, I’ve talked particularly with the law enforcement people all over our state who have seen the change in the people they’re dealing with and the options they have available. Suddenly the option isn’t just to go to somebody’s house in a crisis moment in the middle of the night and take somebody to the emergency room for one night having that problem solved, but the option is to actually go somewhere where your mental health challenge is being dealt with just like if you have a heart attack or you have a kidney problem or some other problem. That’s why we’ve introduced legislation to extend this for another two years, and if money is available in the pay-for we’ve proposed, to even see if we can add more states to those eight states.

“When we announced this new legislation, Laura Heebner – who’s with Compass Health Systems in Missouri - was one of the people that joined us. She said that in the past, before this program was able to help in our state, that roughly half of the people who sought an appointment from their mental health facility couldn't get scheduled for several days, sometimes several weeks, and half of the people didn't come back. …

“So let me make two quick points here as I conclude. One is, the goal of this program is not for the federal government to take over the behavioral health costs of the country. The goal is for this program to look at mental health and keep track of 24 or 25 other health care markers and decide how much your other health care is impacted in a positive way, and in fact in a cost-saving way if you're dealing with mental health at the same time.

“And the second point I'd like to make is we need to see the Congress step up in the next few days, extend the current program through the end of this spending year, and then let's have a debate about why two more years of putting all that information together gives states and communities the information they need to find out, what I believe, will be everybody understands not only the right thing to do but fiscally the smart thing to do. By dealing with mental health like all other health, the overall health care costs of that big mental health community goes down dramatically if you're seeing your doctor, showing up for your appointments, taking your medicine, your other problems are much more easily managed than the costs of adding the right thing to do, health care, mental health care to all our other health care priorities.” 

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