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Capitol Connector

Capitol Connector
Your source for the latest updates from Capitol Hill. We translate policy into practice so you can learn how policy trends will affect your work and how best to prepare.

Bipartisan House Bill Would Support College Students Living with Addiction

July 11, 2019 | Addictions | Comments
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Shelley Starkey

The Campus Prevention and Recovery Services for Students Act of 2019 (H.R. 3591), introduced late last month, would help institutions of higher education support students experiencing substance use disorder (SUD). The bill aims to implement evidence-based programs, promote collaboration between schools and state treatment agencies, and encourage integration between primary care, mental health and SUD services in campus-based health centers. The National Council applauds Representatives David Trone (D-MD), Dusty Johnson (R-SD), Chris Pappas (D-NH), John Joyce (R-PA), Lucy McBath (D-GA), and Michael Guest (R-MS) for their leadership on this issue.

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FY 2020 Health Spending Package Passes House

June 27, 2019 | Federal Budget | Comments
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Shelley Starkey

Policy & Advocacy Coordinator

Last week, the House passed its fiscal year 2020, Defense-Labor, Health and Human Services, Education (Labor-HHS) appropriations bills, which include funding for federal mental health and addiction programs. The $1 trillion package would prioritize funding to address the opioid crisis and increase medical research. The minibus passed largely along party lines and is unlikely to pass the Republican-controlled Senate as currently written. Importantly, Congressional leaders from both parties and President Trump will need to work out a larger deal to lift impending budget caps before September 30th, 2019 for any spending bill to become law.

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VA Launches Veterans Community Care Program

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Shelley Starkey

The Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) this week announced improvements to the way the agency collaborates with non-VA, community health providers by ending the Veterans Choice Program and establishing a new Veterans Community Care Program. The new changes aim to provide better access to high-quality health care for the 9 million veterans served by the VA by expanding eligibility for community care, providing a new urgent care benefit, and modernizing and streamlining certain processes.

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Health Groups Convene Briefing on Medicare Out-of-Pocket Caps

June 27, 2019 | Drug Pricing | Medicare | Comments
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Wendolyn Ebbert

Intern, Policy & Practice Improvement

On Tuesday, the MAPRx Coalition, which includes the National Council, hosted a Congressional staff briefing featuring a panel of advocates representing the AIDS Institute, the American Cancer Society, the National Council on Aging and Avalere Health. Speakers provided an overview of how Medicare Part D offers access to prescription drugs and the need for legislation that would place a cap on out-of-pocket costs for these medications. Currently, costs for medications that treat life-threatening illnesses such as cancer, HIV/AIDS, autoimmune diseases, which often co-occur with mental illness and substance use disorder, amount to tens of thousands of dollars per year per person. If Congress does not act, these expenses are set to increase in 2020, having a devastating impact for over 1 million Medicare enrollees.

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House Passes Funding Extension for CCBHC Demonstration

June 20, 2019 | Uncategorized | Comments
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Wendolyn Ebbert

Intern, Policy & Practice Improvement

On Tuesday, the House voted to pass the “Empowering Beneficiaries, Ensuring Access, and Strengthening Accountability Act of 2019 (H.R. 3253),” which would extend funding for certain Medicaid programs. Under the provision, funding for the eight-state Certified Community Behavioral Health Clinic (CCBHC) demonstration program would be extended for another two and a half years until December 21, 2021. There was overwhelming bipartisan support of H.R. 3253, passing with a vote of 371-46. The bill must now go to the Senate for a vote before the CCBHC demonstration program expires on June 30th, 2019.

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National Council Member Testifies in Support of Extending CCBHCs

June 6, 2019 | Uncategorized | Comments
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Wendolyn Ebbert

Intern, Policy & Practice Improvement

On Tuesday, Mary-Catherine Bohan of Rutgers University Behavioral Health Care (UBHC), a National Council member and Certified Community Behavioral Health Clinic, testified before the House Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Health in support of the Excellence in Mental Health and Addiction Treatment Expansion Act (S. 824/ H.R. 1767). The legislation would extend the Certified Community Behavioral Health Clinic (CCBHC) Medicaid demonstration program in its original eight states for two years and expand the program to 11 other states that applied but were not originally selected. The CCBHC program is set to expire on June 30th, 2019 if Congress does not act. 

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Congress Seeks to Address Rising Health Care Costs

May 30, 2019 | Drug Pricing | Medicare | Comments
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Shelley Starkey

Both the House and Senate have released bipartisan proposals in the last week to lower out-of-pocket health care costs across the country. The Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions (HELP) Committee has released a sweeping proposal to address surprise medical billing, increase transparency within the health care industry, and bring down drug costs. Meanwhile, leaders of the House Ways and Means and Energy and Commerce Committees are seeking input on draft legislation to cap out-of-pocket costs under Medicare Part D, the program’s prescription drug benefit.

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Sen. Warren, Rep. Kennedy Reintroduce Bill to Strengthen Parity

May 23, 2019 | Parity | Comments
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Stephanie Pellitt

, National Council for Behavioral Health

Earlier this week, Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) and Representative Joe Kennedy III (D-MA) reintroduced the Behavioral Health Coverage Transparency Act (H.R. 2874/S. 1576) with the aim of strengthening Americans’ access to mental health and substance use disorder (SUD) treatment. Specifically, the bill would increase oversight and enforcement of the federal parity law, which requires that insurance coverage of mental health and SUD services be equal to the coverage of medical and surgical health services. 

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Advocates Storm Capitol Hill to Preserve CCBHCs

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Michael Petruzzelli

, National Council for Behavioral Health

On Thursday, the National Council hosted nearly 100 advocates from 16 states to build support for legislation to extend and expand the Certified Community Behavioral Health Clinic (CCBHC) demonstration program in Medicaid. The Excellence in Mental Health and Addiction Treatment Expansion Act (S. 824/ H.R. 1767) would extend the demo in the original eight states for two years, while expanding the program to the other 11 that applied but were not originally selected. The CCBHC program will expire on June 30, 2019 without Congressional action.

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Finalized Rule from CMS Preserves Medicare’s Six Protected Classes

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Shelley Starkey

The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) released a final rule on Thursday aimed at addressing rising drug prices and out-of-pocket expenses under Medicare Part D and Medicare Advantage. Notably, the final rule did not include previously-proposed measures that would have provided exceptions to Medicare’s “six protected classes,” a policy that ensures beneficiaries with complex health conditions, including mental illness, have access to a full range of medication treatment options. The announcement comes after six months of opposition to the proposals from Members of Congress and patient and provider advocates, including the National Council for Behavioral Health.

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House Appropriators Pass FY 20 Health Spending

May 9, 2019 | Federal Budget | Comments
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Stephanie Pellitt

, National Council for Behavioral Health

The House Appropriations Committee approved its Labor-HHS budget for Fiscal Year 2020 on Wednesday, funding key federal health, education and labor programs for the year ahead. The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) saw increases of $115 million to its programming which includes level funding for several key programs as well as new funding for the Community Mental Health Services Block Grant and substance use disorder workforce initiatives. The appropriations bill now heads to the House floor for consideration and a vote.

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New Opioid Crisis Response Bill Introduced in Both Chambers

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Shelley Starkey

This week, a group of 95 Democrats in the House and Senate re-introduced a bill that would invest $100 billion in federal funds over ten years to better address the opioid overdose epidemic, which took almost 48,000 American lives in 2017. The Comprehensive Addiction Resources Emergency (CARE) Act (S. 1365/H.R. 2569) includes provisions to strengthen standards for recovery residences, establish new grant programs to help individuals living with addictions find or maintain employment, and incentivize states to cover the full range of addiction services in their Medicaid programs. The National Council thanks the CARE Act’s sponsors for their work to provide desperately needed resources that will expand addiction treatment capacity nationwide.

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White House Releases More Details on National Drug Control Strategy

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Shelley Starkey

The Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP), a component of the White House responsible for coordinating the nation’s response to drug-related issues such as the opioid overdose epidemic, released its Performance Reporting System last week, which established nine measurable goals and objectives meant to be achieved by 2022. The goals include reducing the number of drug overdose deaths, increasing prescriber education on best practices and clinical guidelines, and expanding access to evidence-based addiction treatment options.

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Legislation Eliminating Buprenorphine Waivers Introduced in House

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Katiri Zuluaga

Manager, State Initiatives

A bipartisan piece of legislation has been introduced in the House that would remove restrictions on health providers to prescribe buprenorphine, a medication proven effective in treating opioid use disorder. The Mainstreaming Addiction Treatment Act (H.R.2482) would eliminate the requirement for medical providers to obtain a waiver from the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) to treat opioid use disorder with buprenorphine or any other Schedule III, IV or V drug. Currently, practitioners must apply for the waiver in order to prescribe buprenorphine specifically to treat addiction, even though they may be able to prescribe the medication for other reasons.

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Tennessee to Seek Block Grant for Medicaid

May 9, 2019 | Medicaid | Waivers/SPAs | Comments
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Michael Petruzzelli

, National Council for Behavioral Health

Last week, the Tennessee legislature passed a bill that would make it the first state in the nation to transform its Medicaid program into a single lump sum block grant. The legislation was passed after continued promises from the Trump Administration to provide states greater flexibility in running their state Medicaid programs. The bill now heads to Governor Bill Lee’s desks for his review and approval.

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House Panel Approves FY 20 Health Funding Levels

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Stephanie Pellitt

, National Council for Behavioral Health

On Tuesday, the appropriations subcommittee that covers health care programs approved funding levels for federal health spending for Fiscal Year (FY) 2020. As expected, the bill largely ignores proposed cuts from President Trump’s budget and assumes that Congress will reach a deal to avoid upcoming budget caps. As currently written, the Labor, Health and Human Services, Education and Related Agencies (Labor-HHS) appropriations bill would prioritize efforts to address the opioid crisis and increase medical research.

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House Bill Aims to Address Mental Health Workforce Shortage

May 2, 2019 | Mental Health | Workforce | Comments
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Shelley Starkey

A bill introduced in the House this week would establish a loan repayment program for mental health care providers who commit to working in designated communities with a lack of accessible care. The Mental Health Professionals Workforce Shortage Loan Repayment Act of 2019 (H.R. 2431), introduced by Representatives John Katko (R-NY) and Grace Napolitano (D-CA), seeks to address a critical shortage in the number of mental health care providers across the country.

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MACPAC Requests Public Comment on IMD Payment

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Stephanie Pellitt

, National Council for Behavioral Health

This week, the Medicaid and CHIP Payment and Access Commission (MACPAC) issued a request for comments from stakeholders on requirements, standards, and payments for institutions for mental disease (IMDs) under Medicaid. This announcement builds on recent moves by Congress and the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid (CMS) to provide opportunities for states to waive the IMD Medicaid payment exclusion for mental health and addiction services delivered in IMD settings. Specifically, the request comes in response to a provision from the SUPPORT Act that requires MACPAC to issue a report on IMDs and the services furnished by such providers. Providers interested in commenting have until May 31st at 5:30pm ET to submit comments.

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Speak Up at Hill Day 2019

April 25, 2019 | Hill Day | Comments
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Michael Petruzzelli

, National Council for Behavioral Health

If you don’t speak up, how can you be heard? Our voices are louder – and more powerful – together. But only if we use them. Use your voice this year with hundreds of your fellow advocates at Hill Day 2019 – September 17-18 in Washington, D.C.

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House Bill Aims to Address Veteran Suicides at VA Facilities

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Katiri Zuluaga

Manager, State Initiatives

This month, three veterans completed suicide at  Veterans Affairs (VA) facilities over the course of five days, bringing an alarming trend into the national consciousness. The rising rate of suicides and suicide attempts at VA facilities has prompted new legislation to be introduced in Congress. H.R. 2340, proposed by Army combat veteran Representative Max Rose (D-NY), would require the VA to track deaths and suicide attempts on VA property and provide that information to Congress, along with medical, financial and housing information for any individuals who die by suicide at the VA.

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