Sens. Moran, Smith introduce bill to increase access to behavioral health care

TOPEKA, Kan. (WIBW) – Senators Jerry Moran and Tina Smith have introduced new legislation that would make it easier to access behavioral health care.

U.S. Senator Tina Smith (D-Minn.) says she and Sen. Jerry Moran (R-Kan) introduced bipartisan legislation which would expand access to behavioral health care. She said the bill would make it painless to receive behavioral health services in a primary care setting, which would make mental health care more affordable and accessible.

“When I experienced depression, resources were there for me. But right now, too many people don’t have access to the behavioral health care they need,” said Sen. Smith. “We need to start treating mental health with the same urgency we treat physical health, and that starts by making sure everyone who needs help can get it. This bill will help primary care providers treat both physical and mental health so that care is more accessible for everyone.”

Smith noted that integrating primary care and behavioral health care would reduce barriers to access for those in need of mental health care. She said addressing both physical and mental health in primary care settings can also be cost-effective for patients and healthcare providers.

“Primary care physicians have a relationship with their patients that is built over years through trust and familiarity,” said Moran. “Integrating mental and behavioral health care into primary care settings will help provide Americans with easier access to mental health services through a familiar health care touchpoint. This legislation would supply primary care physicians with the resources necessary to begin merging mental health care into primary care settings to better serve patients.”

However, Smith said this model of integrated care has been challenging to implement. Specifically, she said primary care providers often do not have the financial resources to hire behavioral health professionals or cover immediate costs.

“With the increase in people struggling with their mental health and a mental health workforce crisis there is a great need to promote integrated options,” said Sue Abderholden, Executive Director of NAMI Minnesota. “This means having mental health professionals in primary or pediatric care offices to eliminate barriers and provide early intervention.”

Smith said the Improving Access to Behavioral Health Integration Act would amend an existing federal program to expand access to integrated care. Specifically, she said the legislation would:

  • Establish a federal grant program for primary care practices to implement evidence-based behavioral health integration programs.
  • Prioritize support for practices that show financial sustainability of behavioral health integration programs and have the capacity to expand access to mental health and substance use disorder services in medically underserved areas. Preference is given to small practices with fewer than 15 clinicians.
  • Require the Secretary of Health and Human Services to develop evidence-based metrics and reporting requirements to measure the uptake of behavioral health integration models by primary care practices.
  • Direct the Secretary to consult with primary care and behavioral health professionals and patient advocates when developing measures and performance metrics.
  • Require the Secretary to publish evaluation results and identify best practices to scale successful behavioral health integration models.

“Primary care doctors often serve as the first point of contact for patients facing behavioral health challenges,” said Sterling Ransone, President of the American Academy of Family Physicians. “Behavioral health integration in primary care is vital to providing patients with the whole person care they deserve, but practices often face steep costs and lack the support to integrate behavioral health services. The provisions of this bill will provide more primary care practices with the resources they need for meaningful practice transformation.”

Smith noted that the legislation has been endorsed by a large number of national, state and local health organizations.

“The Bipartisan Policy Center and Bipartisan Policy Center Action endorses the Improving Access to Behavioral Health Integration Act and applauds Sen. Smith and Sen. Moran for their leadership in advancing bipartisan proposals to address the mental health challenges facing the country,” said the Bipartisan Policy Center in a statement. “This bill would provide financial assistance to support the integration and expansion of behavioral health care in primary care, especially in underserved areas. Recognizing the strong connection between physical and behavioral health, the Bipartisan Policy Center has focused on breaking down barriers to integrating primary and behavioral health care. BPC and BPC Action looks forward to working with Congress to pass this bill.”

For more information about the legislation, click HERE.

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