Meaning. Moran and 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. Sen. Tina Smith (D-Minn.) says she and Sen. Jerry Moran (R-Kan) introduced bipartisan legislation that 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, making mental health care more affordable and accessible.

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

Smith noted that integrating primary care and behavioral health care would reduce barriers to access for those who need mental health care. She said supporting 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,” Moran said. “Integrating mental and behavioral health care into primary care settings will help provide Americans with easier access to mental health services through a familiar point of contact with health care. This legislation would provide primary care physicians with the resources to begin merging mental health care into primary care settings to better serve patients.

However, Smith said this integrated care model has been difficult to implement. Specifically, she said primary care providers often don’t have the financial resources to hire behavioral health professionals or to cover immediate costs.

“With the increase in the number of people struggling with their mental health and a crisis in the mental health workforce, it is imperative to promote integrated options,” said Sue Abderholden, executive director of NAMI Minnesota. “That means having mental health professionals in primary care or pediatric offices to break down barriers and provide early intervention.”

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

  • Establish a federal grant program for primary care practices to implement evidence-based behavioral health integration programs.
  • Prioritize supporting practices that demonstrate the financial viability of behavioral health integration programs and have the ability to expand access to mental health and substance use disorder services in medically underserved. Preference is given to small practices with less than 15 clinicians.
  • Require the Secretary of Health and Human Services to develop evidence-based metrics and reporting requirements to measure adoption 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 metrics and performance measures.
  • Require the Secretary to publish the results of the assessment and identify best practices for scaling successful behavioral health integration models.

“Primary care physicians often serve as the first point of contact for patients dealing with behavioral health issues,” said Sterling Ransone, president of the American Academy of Family Physicians. “Integrating behavioral health into primary care is essential to providing patients with the comprehensive care they deserve, but practices often face high costs and lack 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 slew of national, state and local health organizations.

“Bipartisan Policy Center and Bipartisan Policy Center Action Approve Improving Access to Behavioral Health Act and Applaud Senators Smith and Moran for Their Leadership in Promoting Bipartisan Proposals to Address Mental Health Challenges facing the country,” the bipartisan politician said. Center in a statement. “This bill would provide financial assistance to support the integration and expansion of behavioral health care into primary care, especially in underserved areas. Recognizing the close connection between physical and behavioral health, the Bipartisan Policy Center has focused on removing barriers to the integration of primary and behavioral health care. BPC and BPC Action look forward to working with Congress to pass this bill.

For more information on the legislation, click HERE.

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