Reflections on Hill Day … and the New Unite for Behavioral Health Campaign
Last month, we celebrated our 15th annual Hill Day. Every year, it gets better and better, and this year was no different. More than 700 people traveled to Washington, D.C., to advocate for real and lasting change – systemic change that can make a difference in the lives of millions.
What united all of us in the room – and unites every member of the National Council – is the belief that good public policy is one of the most effective ways to improve the care available to people who are among society’s most vulnerable. Together with all of our members and partners, we want to build a nation that recognizes the essential truth: There is no health without mental health. Without access to treatment, recovery will be out of reach for many. We know that recovery is possible, and it should be the expectation … not the exception.
That’s why the we launched an exciting new initiative on Hill Day. Unite for Behavioral Health leverages the National Council’s track record of success, along with the passion and expertise of our member organizations, to lead the nation toward a future that values the whole health of every American. This campaign seeks to achieve five essential objectives that, together, represent the greatest opportunity to improve the health and wellbeing of the entire nation:
First, we want to fundamentally change the model when it comes to the delivery of behavioral health care in this country. As you know, hundreds of Certified Community Behavioral Health Clinics (CCBHCs) are leading a bold shift to integrate physical, mental health and substance use treatment, address social determinants of health, provide 24/7 crisis care, collaborate with law enforcement and schools, and coordinate with hospitals to reduce emergency department visits and readmissions. This is the model for the future, and we are committed to extending CCBHCs to all 50 states.
Second, we have to accelerate the nation’s response to unhealthy substance use. More than 20 million Americans are living with a drug or alcohol addiction. Drug overdose deaths – from opioids and other drugs – have more than tripled since 1990. This is unacceptable. The National Council is fighting to build capacity in our delivery system to ensure that everyone who seeks treatment is able to receive it. This includes removing barriers to Medication-Assisted Treatment and advocating for sufficient funding to address the addiction crisis nationwide.
Third, we will redouble our efforts to strengthen the field and expand workforce-development programs. As you well know, there simply aren’t enough behavioral health care professionals to meet the need for services, and the deficit is significantly greater in rural areas. The problem will only get worse without targeted interventions. We will work with policymakers to incentivize more people to pursue careers in the addiction and mental health field, through enhanced reimbursement policies that enable clinics to pay competitive wages, the expansion of Medicare reimbursement for counselors and MFTs, loan-repayment programs for addiction treatment and mental health professionals, and more.
Fourth, we know our work is far from done when it comes to parity. More than 10 years after the Mental Health Parity and Addiction Equity Act was passed, people are still being denied access to mental health and addiction treatment. We are working to ensure full implementation of parity in all 50 states. And where the law is not sufficient, we will work with advocates to change federal and state laws.
Finally, we will continue to get more people trained in Mental Health First Aid. We know that anyone, anywhere, can make a difference and potentially save a life. More than two million individuals have been trained already, and we must continue to grow that number. To that end, we will advocate for additional funding at the federal and state level to ensure training is available to police officers, teachers and other critical audiences in every community.
I am incredibly excited about this campaign, and about the potential we have, together, to make a real and lasting difference. Click here to see the full policy agenda.
And I am emboldened knowing that the majority of Americans share our vision and our commitment. At Hill Day, the National Council released new public opinion research that shows 77 percent of Americans believe the country and the federal government are not doing enough to address mental health.
And while so many issues of our time are shaped by partisan divisions, there is a clear and strong bipartisan consensus on this one: 85 percent of Democrats and 68 percent of Republicans believe the federal government is not doing enough to address mental health. And when it comes to addiction, 79 percent of Democrats and 60 percent of Republicans agree the federal government is not doing enough.
And here’s what elected officials need to know as we head into 2020: Americans want them to stand up for mental health and addiction treatment – 75 percent of Democrats and 52 percent of Republicans say they would be more likely to vote for a candidate in 2020 who promised to do more to address mental health and addiction.
I think those numbers speak for themselves. Our mandate is clear, and our obligation is to turn this bipartisan consensus into meaningful policy changes. We know the American people want us to be able to do more – to serve more people, to help more people get better, and to make recovery possible.
As the Hill Day slogan says, our voices are louder together. I am so excited about the Unite for Behavioral Health campaign and, more importantly, for the potential we have together to make a real difference in the lives of millions. So, let’s get to work.
We are united … and we are ready to go!