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Linda Rosenberg

Former President and CEO, National Council for Behavioral Health

How is a McDonalds different from a Bill Introduced in Congress?

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Less different than you might expect. There are 14,127 McDonalds in the U.S. — and about that many bills introduced during each two-year session of Congress.

Our nation’s 14,000 McDonalds are extremely efficient at their job, dishing out more than 75 hamburgers worldwide per second. Congress, on the other hand, passed only 65 bills in 2013 — and many of them dealt with non-substantive subjects like post office re-namings or commemorative coin authorizations.

Now, no one expects — or wants — Congress to pass as many bills as McDonalds hamburgers sold. But Congress has come under growing criticism for being a “do-nothing” body, characterized by ironclad partisanship, mired in perpetual gridlock.

I beg to differ.

When it comes to the most meaningful mental health and addictions care legislation to pass in well over a generation — the Excellence in Mental Health Act — they did something. And as long as I’ve working in public policy, I have never seen something like this pass.

I often speak to Americans who think that if something is a good idea, it’s self-evident that Congress should pass it. But they don’t call policy-making a “sausage-making” process for nothing. Dozens of factors intersect to prevent most legislation from ever coming to a vote. That’s why policymaking is such hard work. It takes a combination of sound ideas, outstanding legislative champions, excellent timing, and a touch of luck to make it from bill to law.

Thanks to the combined efforts of thousands of advocates and our passionate champions in Congress, the Excellence Act cleared that bar this year.

To borrow words from Vice President Biden, this is a “BFD.”

And it’s a huge victory — for us all.

This legislation opens a world of opportunities. I recently spoke with the executive of one our member organizations in Arkansas. She wanted to understand what this meant for her agency and the people they care for. The reality is that the Excellence Act reaches well beyond the agency and patient level, affecting national attitudes toward mental health and addictions care and states ability to assess value and invest wisely.

Community mental health and addiction treatment organizations will soon have much greater coverage for the services they provide. They will see improved payment methodology that at least meets the cost of the services they provide. It restores parity in the healthcare safety-net.

When someone walks through an agency’s door, they will know what they’re getting. They know they will be linked to the services they need in the broader healthcare system. And they know they will receive better care coordination from a trained and competent team of providers.

For states, they know what they’re paying for and they have measurable ways to demonstrate value.

The Excellence Act is law. The table is set, but we still have much to do to expand this law from an eight state demonstration project to a nationwide standard.