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Chuck Ingoglia

, National Council for Behavioral Health

Year in Review: Progress for Behavioral Health on the Hill

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The beginning of a new year is always a time for reflection on our achievements over the last twelve months and setting goals for what we hope to accomplish in the coming twelve. 2014 is an especially exciting time to do this because of how far we’ve come with our legislative priorities, thanks to unprecedented support in Congress and the outstanding support from advocates like you.

In many ways, 2013 was a landmark year for behavioral health policy. Not only did we see the reintroduction of many important pieces of legislation – including the Excellence in Mental Health Act, Mental Health First Aid Act, Behavioral Health IT Act, and others – we also saw record-high levels of bipartisan support for these initiatives. Here are just a few of our collective accomplishments in 2013:

Excellence in Mental Health Act (S. 264/H.R. 1263).

This important bill would reinvest in the community behavioral health system, in what National Council President and CEO Linda Rosenberg has called the “biggest thing for behavioral health” since the 1963 passage of the Community Mental Health Services Act.

  • In 2013, with support from advocates at Hill Day and through our Action Alert Network, we enlisted support for this bill from dozens of Republican and Democratic lawmakers. A demonstration project based on the Excellence Act was approved unanimously by the Senate Finance Committee in December. The demonstration project was also included in Congressman Tim Murphy’s mental health reform bill (H.R. 3717). The National Council thanks Senator Debbie Stabenow (D-MI), Senator Roy Blunt (R-MO), Congresswoman Doris Matsui (D-CA), and Congressman Leonard Lance (R-NJ) for their tireless work championing this bill.
  • What’s ahead in 2014: House and Senate negotiators will spend this spring ironing out differences between the two chambers’ versions of the Medicare physician pay bill. We need to make sure the Excellence Act stays on board! Make sure to sign up for our Action Alert network to learn about opportunities to take action during these negotiations.
Mental Health First Aid Act (S. 153/H.R. 274).

This legislation would provide funding to support the expansion of Mental Health First Aid (MHFA) programs across the United States. MHFA is an evidence-based public education program that trains individuals in a five-step action plan to reach out and respond to a person experiencing a mental health or substance use crisis.

  • In 2013, we garnered support from a record number of lawmakers, Republican and Democrat. Funding for Mental Health First Aid was included in President Obama’s 2014 budget request and was incorporated into the Mental Health Awareness and Improvement Act, which passed the Senate by a vote of 95-2. Congressman Ron Barber (D-AZ), Congresswoman Lynn Jenkins (R-KS), Senator Mark Begich (D-AK), and Senator Kelly Ayotte (R-NH) have dedicated themselves to building support for this legislation among their colleagues.
  • What’s ahead in 2014: Congressional appropriators are negotiating a final 2014 budget, expected to be released at any moment. The National Council supports the inclusion of Mental Health First Aid in the budget, and will continue working towards this goal in 2014 and future fiscal years. We also pledge to continue working with the bill’s sponsors win passage of the Mental Health First Aid Act in Congress.
Behavioral Health IT Act (H.R. 2957/S. 1517/S. 1685).

Three behavioral health information technology bills have been introduced in the 113th Congress, again with record levels of bipartisan support. This legislation would make mental health and addiction treatment facilities eligible for federal incentive payments that support the adoption and meaningful use of electronic health records.

  • In 2013, the National Council continued working with the Behavioral Health IT Coalition to build support for the BHIT Act. The Act was a major priority for Hill Day 2013 attendees, who helped win support from nearly 40 lawmakers. This legislation was also included as part of Congressman Tim Murphy’s mental health reform legislation (H.R. 3717). Senator Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI), Senator Rob Portman (R-OH), and Congressman Murphy have been vocal champions of this important bill, bringing it forward at every opportunity and working ceaselessly to ensure its passage.
  • What’s ahead in 2014: The National Council and the Behavioral Health IT Coalition will continue working to attach this bill to other moving healthcare legislation, the best chance for a bill like this to receive a vote. Stay tuned to our Action Alerts for opportunities to get involved!
And that’s not all…

2013 also saw the introduction of many other bills important to mental health and addiction treatment providers, bills which we will continue to monitor and promote in 2014. Last year also set an all-time record of Hill Day attendees. Over 600 of you came to DC to speak with your legislators about these and other priorities – and we plan to shatter that record at Hill Day 2014, held May 7 in conjunction with our annual conference.

Help us start the year off right by taking just three simple steps!
  1. Sign up for our Action Alert network to join the fight for a strong behavioral health safety net.
  2. Register for Hill Day, May 7, 2014. Hill Day is taking place in conjunction with our annual conference, and we encourage you to register for both. But, if your budget simply won’t allow it, you can still attend the Hill Day-only portion of the event for free.
  3. Reach out to me at chucki@thenationalcouncil.org if you have any questions about these or other policy priorities.

Happy New Year to all of our blog and newsletter readers. 2013 was a good year for behavioral health priorities on Capitol Hill – and we look forward to making 2014 even more successful!