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Charles Ingoglia, MSW

President and CEO of the National Council for Mental Wellbeing

Behavioral Health Providers Need Emergency Funding to Avert Collapse

April 13, 2020 | Uncategorized | Comments
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The COVID-19 pandemic represents the greatest crisis to ever hit community mental health and addiction treatment providers. While Congress and the Trump administration have moved quickly to enact policy changes that will ensure more people can receive the health care they need during the crisis, many significant gaps remain.

The community behavioral health system, particularly organizations serving low income individuals, is at risk of collapse. The combination of lost revenue coupled with increased costs from staff overtime, acquiring personal protective equipment and implementing telehealth where possible is simply overwhelming many providers. If we don’t takCEOe steps now to avert the collapse of the system, we can expect millions of individuals with mental illness and addiction to arrive in overtaxed emergency departments across the nation.

We can avert this secondary crisis, but only if Congress acts quickly.

The National Council for Mental Wellbeing, along with more than 40 other national organizations addressing mental illness and addiction, have requested a $38.5 billion infusion of emergency funds for community behavioral health organizations (CBHOs) to avert a large-scale public health calamity, with a significant portion of these emergency funds dedicated to CBHOs enrolled in Medicaid and serving some of the nation’s most vulnerable individuals.

This funding would immediately stabilize the system and ensure the continued availability of mental health and addiction treatment services to millions of individuals nationwide. But the value of such an investment goes far beyond the immediate need.

According to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), calls in March to the national mental health hotline increased 891% when compared to the same period last year. Every indication suggests that CBHOs will see a profound aftershock of widespread anxiety and post-traumatic stress disorder and, with it, an onslaught of new patients in crisis.

We can be prepared, but only if emergency relief funds are distributed on an urgent basis to community behavioral health organizations in all 50 states.

Fortunately, Congress and the Trump administration have already taken other steps to change federal guidelines so that more practitioners can use telehealth – including audio-only services – during the COVID-19 outbreak. However, the changes are not applied consistently across federal programs. We urge the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) to issue permanent guidance making clear that the full range of both Medicaid and Medicare providers can offer covered telehealth services to enrollees based in any health care facility, including physicians’ offices and nursing homes, as well as from enrollees’ homes.

Additionally, we appreciate the latest action by the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) to temporarily waive the in-person patient medical evaluation as a requirement for the prescription of controlled substances via telemedicine. The National Council has long advocated for changes to this DEA policy. Unfortunately, other policies remain in force, including one that unnecessarily excludes thousands of mental health and addiction treatment providers from registering with DEA as clinics, even when they already meet state and county criteria to operate as a clinic. Now is the time to permanently eliminate these policies that discriminate against mental health and addiction treatment providers and prevent existing and new patients from receiving the care they need.

As a nation, it is in our common best interest to make sure mental health and addiction treatment providers are able to deliver essential health care in a time of crisis, and beyond. On behalf of the National Council’s 3,326 member organizations serving over 10 million adults, children and families living with mental illnesses and addictions, I urge Congress and the Trump administration to commit $38.5 billion in emergency funding and enact other policies that allow behavioral health field to be fully engaged in the nation’s response to COVID-19.