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Passage of 21st Century Cures Act a Big Win for Mental Health Reform

     

Our patients received a huge victory yesterday when the Senate passed the 21st Century Cures Act, a piece of legislation with numerous provisions aimed at reforming and improving America’s mental health care system. The bill, which was passed by the House on Nov. 30, now only needs to be signed into law by President Obama.

Simply put, the passage of this legislation is a significant victory for the 13 million Americans living with serious mental illness and substance use disorders, their families, and the psychiatrists and mental health professionals that treat them. It also represents the first bill dealing with mental health reform in a very long time.

Mental health reform has had champions in Congress on both sides of the aisle, like Reps. Tim Murphy (R-Pa.) and Eddie Bernice Johnson (D-Texas) who were behind the Helping Families in Mental Health Crisis Act, and Sens. Chris Murphy (D-Conn.) and Bill Cassidy (R-La.) who sponsored the Mental Health Reform Act of 2016. The 21st Century Cures Act includes provisions from both of those pieces of legislation.

21st Century Cures reauthorizes grants that support integrated care models, fostering close collaboration between mental health professionals and primary care doctors. It also reauthorizes funding for training programs like APA’s own Typical or Troubled? program, which trains school officials to identify students who may be in need of mental health services.

A major part of the 21st Century Cures Act toughens enforcement of existing parity laws. To that end, the bill requires the Department of Health and Human Services to develop a plan that ensures enforcement of parity laws, which mandate that insurance companies offer the same coverage for mental illness and substance use disorders that they would for any other ailment.

The bill also provides $1 billion in state grants for addressing the opioid epidemic that is currently gripping the nation. This funding is critical to stemming the deadly tide of opioid addiction that has swept across America, particularly in rural areas where treatment services for mental health and substance use disorders are often underfunded.

With the passage of this bill, mental health reform in the United States has taken a huge step forward. The mental health care system in our country is broken, and while this bill addresses many critical issues, this bill cannot signify the end for the fight for comprehensive mental health reform. The APA will continue to push for state and federal legislation that improve access to mental health care.

Still, once the bill is implemented, the tens of millions of Americans who live every day with mental illness or a substance use disorder will have a better chance at receiving the care they need than before. We owe it to them to view this victory as a starting point and continue our work with lawmakers and allied groups to realize our ultimate goal of a mental health care system that can provide high quality mental health care to anyone who needs it.

     

Post by Maria A. Oquendo, M.D., Ph.D.

Maria A. Oquendo, M.D., Ph.D., is the President of APA. Read Dr. Oquendo's full biography.

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