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Mental Health Bill Aims to Sync Substance Use, Medicaid Agencies

May 10, 2022, 10:00 AM

Mental health services would get a funding boost in bipartisan legislation set to be unveiled Tuesday that aims to improve coordination between agencies focusing on opioid addiction services and paying for treatment.

The measure, by Sens. Bill Cassidy (R-La.) and Chris Murphy (D-Conn.), would provide a path for ramping up existing health plans and coordination between the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration and the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services to better help individuals with serious mental illness.

According to a legislative overview document, the Mental Health Reform Reauthorization Act of 2022 would also authorize $25 million annually for five fiscal years for states to enforce existing mental health parity laws. The existing laws require that insurers cover mental health care to the same extent as other services.

Mental health has been a major focus for both parties in Congress as well as the White House, taking up much space in congressional hearings and administration policy pushes. House lawmakers on May 6 introduced legislation to reauthorize several federal health programs and require non-government plans to comply with mental health parity laws.

“I’m probably always willing to go further on parity, you know, enforcement than some Republicans are. And I’m always kind of sensitive to finding the middle ground when it comes to the way in which we enforce existing parity law,” Murphy told reporters last week.

Murphy also noted that “we’re sensitive to the appetite right now for a lot of new programs,” though noted skepticism from Sen. Richard Burr (R-N.C.) “about the utility of new programs.” Burr is the ranking member of the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions, which deals with mental health matters.

The legislation would also re-up dollars for one of SAMHSA’s largest programs, the Community Mental Health Services Block Grant, and push for the CMS to coordinate better in serving young individuals earlier when they experience mental health troubles.

“Step by step by step, we want to make it so that the first psychotic episode a young person has is her last psychotic episode,” Cassidy said at a press event on the legislation.

Those eligible for SAMHSA grants to divert people with mental illness from incarceration would be protected from “destabilizing medication changes” under the bill, according to an overview document for the legislation. The bill would also support a SAMHSA program to help those suffering from mental illness and homelessness access housing.

To contact the reporter on this story: Ian Lopez in Washington at ilopez@bloomberglaw.com

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Alexis Kramer at akramer@bloomberglaw.com; Karl Hardy at khardy@bloomberglaw.com