Senators push for expansion of community mental health clinics

Sens. Roy Blunt, R-Mo., left, and Debbie Stabenow, D-Mich.
Tom Gannam and Lawrence Jackson/Associated Press
Sens. Roy Blunt, R-Mo., left, and Debbie Stabenow, D-Mich.

Sens. Roy Blunt (R-Mo.) and Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.) are calling on lawmakers to expand Certified Community Behavioral Health Clinics (CCBHC) nationwide.

“This is an important moment to come together and finally treat health care above the neck the same as health care below the neck,” the senators wrote in a USA Today op-ed.

CCBHCs, which operate as nonprofit organizations or part of a local government, provide a range of mental health and substance use disorder services and are particularly aimed at helping vulnerable individuals. 

Blunt and Stabenow helped establish an eight-state Medicaid demonstration program in 2014 to provide the centers with enhanced reimbursement rates to cover increased costs.

The centers are required to provide nine types of services to be designated as the special provider type in Medicaid, including 24-hour crisis care and integrations with physical health services.

“This approach is already changing people’s lives – and saving communities money – in the states where mental health and addiction treatment are funded the same way as other health care,” Blunt and Stabenow wrote.

The CARES Act — the $2 trillion coronavirus relief package then-President Trump signed into law in March 2020 — expanded the demonstration to two other states, enabling Kentucky and Michigan to participate. Congress has also appropriated grant funding since 2018 to support CCBHCs.

The funding has led to more than 430 CCBHCs currently operating in 42 states and the District of Columbia and Guam, according to the National Council for Mental Wellbeing.

But those centers funded through the grants do not receive the enhanced Medicaid reimbursements. Blunt and Stabenow last year introduced legislation to expand the Medicaid demonstration nationwide.

“When the grant runs out, so does the health care,” the senators wrote.

“Imagine being told that your heart attack can’t be treated because the grant ran out,” they continued. “That happens to people with mental illness and addiction all the time, and it makes no sense.”

President Biden has included expanding the model to every state that wants to participate in his fiscal 2023 budget request.

“Let’s get all Americans the mental health services they need,” he said in his State of the Union address in March. “More people they can turn to for help and full parity between physical and mental health care.”

The two senators called Biden’s support for the expansion “so significant,” pointing to Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) data showing patients at CCBHCs had fewer emergency department visits for behavioral health issues, saw a decrease in homelessness and spent less time in correctional facilities.

“The nationwide expansion of Certified Community Behavioral Health Clinics isn’t the only bipartisan behavioral health win in the president’s budget,” the senators wrote. “It would double funding for children’s mental health and behavioral health workforce development and provide more mental health care for veterans and seniors.”

Researchers have raised alarm bells over mental health issues worsened by the COVID-19 pandemic. 

A recent national survey conducted by The Harris Poll on behalf of the National Council for Mental Wellbeing found that 43 percent of U.S. adults who needed substance use or mental health care did not receive that care.

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) data indicate drug overdose deaths have also risen during the pandemic, growing by 30 percent from 2019 to 2020 and increasing by 15 percent the following year to nearly 108,000 annual deaths.

The Institute of Education Sciences also recently found that 7 out of 10 public schools have seen an increase in children seeking mental health services since the beginning of the pandemic, and a poll released in April indicated three-quarters of young adults said that they believe the country is in a mental health crisis.

Tags Biden Community Behavioral Health Clinics Community mental health service Debbie Stabenow Debbie Staenow Medicaid mental health Mental Health crisis Roy Blunt Roy Blunt substance use care Trump USA Today

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