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Bianca Desai

Policy and Practice Improvement Intern

Senate HELP Committee Holds First Mental Health, Substance Use Hearing of the Year

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Last week, the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) Committee held a hearing with three top government officials to discuss priorities, challenges, and opportunities facing the mental health and substance use treatment community. This is the first in a series of hearings examining the federal government’s role in supporting and funding behavioral health programming. Key issues raised during the hearing include: the results of the RAISE study, federal efforts surrounding suicide prevention, and the cultivation of the behavioral health workforce.

The witness panel included Kana Enomoto, Acting Administrator of the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA); Jim Macrae, Acting Administrator of the Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA); and Dr. Tom Insel, Director of the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH).

Of the many topics discussed, the highlights of the hearing include:

  • The impact of the RAISE study results. The RAISE (Recovery After an Initial Schizophrenia Episode) study is the first of its kind to focus on early intervention treatment. The study put together a range of interventions in a coordinated specialty care model for youth and young adults experiencing an early onset of psychosis. The study compared new treatments with traditional forms of care. After finding results of the study to be promising, NIMH is working with SAMHSA to expand RAISE-based programs, including increasing federal investment in the development of psychosis treatment services.
  • Federal efforts surrounding suicide prevention. Senator Johnny Isakson (R-GA) noted how timely intervention and quickly connecting individuals to mental health counselors is paramount to suicide prevention. Acting Administrator Enomoto cited progress in “Zero Suicide” models, a framework for systematic, clinical suicide prevention in primary and behavioral health care systems. Suicide prevention efforts across these agencies include: SAMHSA’s Suicide Lifeline, NIMH’s research into early intervention, and HRSA’s work on model contract language to ease veterans’ access to care.
  • Efforts to enhance and grow the behavioral health workforce. Acting Administrator Macrae stated that half of staffing requests from community mental health centers are for mental health practitioners. Macrae reiterated HRSA’s focus on health integration as well as the need for recruiting more providers to ensuring patients have the necessary access to care. Senator Chris Murphy (D-CT) noted the need for federal agencies to investigate whether additional providers were necessary to increase patient access or whether instead having access to a greater variety of behavioral health professionals could alleviate the workforce shortage.

Additional topics covered in the two-hour hearing included: the extraordinary cost of co-occurring disorders, insurers’ compliance with parity requirements, and telehealth.

The Senate HELP Committee will convene a second behavioral health hearing on November 19 to discuss the ongoing national opioid epidemic and federal efforts to address it.