Congress considering strategies to increase the mental health care workforce, modernize the National Suicide Prevention Hotline, and expand access to medication-assisted treatment of OUD
March 4, 2022 (ACP)—As members of U.S. Congress consider ways to improve mental health on a national level, the American College of Physicians is urging representatives and senators to support wide-ranging strategies that will make a major difference for years to come.
“ACP is advocating for additional mental and behavioral health resources, mental health parity, the integration of primary care and behavioral health and an increase in the size of the mental health care workforce,” said George Lyons Jr., Esq., ACP director of legislative affairs.
Both the House and the Senate are looking at ways to move forward, and ACP is taking the initiative to advise them on the best approaches.
On the House side, ACP provided a statement to the influential Ways and Means Committee in February as it held its first hearing on the state of American mental health in more than a decade. According to Lyons, the hearing represents the initial step in the legislative process and is crucial to molding mental health legislation.
“ACP advocated for policies that would reduce the mental strain on physicians due to the pandemic, promote the integration of primary and behavioral health, expand the physician workforce and access to telehealth services, and improve oversight and enforcement of mental health parity laws,” Lyons said. “ACP also discussed the Health Resources and Services Administration's finding that shortages of seven different types of mental health clinicians are anticipated by 2025.”
ACP told the committee that it supports bills such as the Resident Physician Shortage Reduction Act of 2021, bipartisan legislation that aims to alleviate the physician shortage by gradually providing 14,000 new Medicare-supported graduate medical education positions. “Our statement supports a collaborative care model for integrating primary care and behavioral health in practices and the government and other stakeholders taking action to reduce the inequities in mental health parity,” Lyons said.
ACP is also expressing support for the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline Implementation Act. Among other things, the legislation would provide resources to modernize the national suicide prevention hotline, implement new treatment programs for behavioral health and improve access to and coverage of mental health and substance use disorder crisis response services. A new toll-free, three-digit suicide prevention hotline phone number—988—is being implemented this year.
On the Senate side, the Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions held a hearing in February on mental health and substance use disorders. ACP reiterated its positions on mental health care and also supported funding to distribute naloxone to individuals with opioid use disorder to prevent overdose deaths. ACP also supports training law enforcement and emergency medical personnel in its use.
“We also stressed that in order to expand access to medication-assisted treatment of opioid use disorders, improved training in the treatment of substance use disorders is necessary,” Lyons said. “We stated support for the establishment of a national Prescription Drug Monitoring Program and more federal research on the effectiveness of public health interventions to combat substance use disorders and associated health problems. ACP also supported the Comprehensive Addiction Resources Emergency (CARE) Act, which would help increase access to treatment, advance research and improve care for individuals with substance use disorders through funding to state and local government efforts.”
What are the chances for important mental health legislation to pass this year? “It's likely to garner bipartisan support in Congress,” Lyons said. “The challenge will be in passing non-appropriations bills in an election year and whether enough votes can be secured in both chambers.”
There is some good news to report: Both the Senate and House have passed the bipartisan Dr. Lorna Breen Health Care Provider Protection Act. “We look forward to the signing of the bill by President Biden,” Lyons said. “It will take important and needed steps to help prevent and reduce incidences of suicide, mental health conditions, substance use disorders and burnout/long-term stress in the physician workforce.”
Moving forward, Lyons said, ACP members can help push crucial legislation in Congress by joining in ACP advocacy efforts and attending the upcoming Leadership Day, which is scheduled for May 17 to 18, 2022.