Healthcare Business News

Bill seeks to bolster mental health services

By Paul Barr
Posted: February 7, 2013 - 12:01 am ET

Mental health legislation introduced by a bipartisan group of seven senators would establish criteria for the designation of healthcare facilities as Federally Qualified Community Behavioral Health Centers, giving them the type of Medicaid prospective payment system reimbursement that Federally Qualified Health Centers receive. The bill also would back the modernization of existing community mental health centers and the construction of new ones.

The bill would aim to address some concerns about the country's mental healthcare that were raised by the school shooting in Newtown, Conn., and would also improve access to mental healthcare for veterans returning from service in Iraq and Afghanistan, according to a news release from the senators sponsoring the bill. The sponsors are: Sens. Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.), Roy Blunt (R-Mo.), Jack Reed (D-R.I.), Susan Collins (R-Maine), Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.), Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) and Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.).

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The new criteria established by the bill, called the Excellence in Mental Health Act, would require such things as 24-hour crisis care, the increased integration of mental and substance abuse care with other kinds of medical care, as well as expanded support for families of mental health patients,

Mark Covall, president and CEO of the National Association of Psychiatric Health Systems, said increased standardization and integration are both worthwhile goals (though the association doesn’t take an official stand on the bill). Whether it is adding mental health services to federally qualified health centers or adding medical care to mental health centers, integration is important because that is the direction the industry is moving toward, Covall said.

Meanwhile, a group of Democrats who form the U.S. House Gun Violence Prevention Task Force garnered praise from the American Public Health Association for recommending that physicians not be prohibited from asking about gun safety, that access to mental healthcare be improved, and that the sale of assault weapons and high-capacity ammunition magazines be banned.

“Today’s proposal includes a range of sensible and critically needed measures to prevent gun violence, a leading cause of preventable death in this country, including restoring unrestricted funding to conduct research at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on the causes of gun violence and how to prevent it,” Dr. Georges Benjamin, executive director of the APHA, said in a news release.

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