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Internists Convey Appreciation to HELP Committee Leadership for Consideration of Mental Health and Substance Use Disorder Bills

ACP offers ‘suggestions and recommendations of greatest significance to members’

(Washington, March 15, 2016)—The American College of Physicians (ACP) on Monday conveyed its appreciation to Chairman Lamar Alexander and Ranking Member Patty Murray of the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) for their leadership and consideration of several important mental health and substance use disorder bills. The HELP committee has scheduled a markup on Wednesday, March 16.

“We applaud your efforts in trying to improve access to care and treatment for those suffering from mental health and substance abuse disorders, which we recognize as a growing need,” wrote Wayne J. Riley, MD, MPH, MBA, MACP, president of ACP.  “As the Committee prepares to consider these bills, we would like to offer our views and recommendations on several key provisions and policies that are of greatest significance to our members.”

The letter noted that ACP strongly supports the integration of mental and behavioral health care into the primary care setting.  Improved integration would improve access for patients. As such:

  • ACP supports Sec. 403 of the draft of the Mental Health Reform Act of 2016, as released on March 7, 2016, that would build and improve upon the current grant program for this type of integration.
  • ACP is particularly pleased that the definition of “special population” is worded so that it could include adults with mental illness and co-occurring primary care/chronic diseases as well as those with substance use disorders and not limited to only patients with serious behavioral health illness.
  • ACP supports the guidance for enhanced compliance with mental health and substance abuse disorder coverage requirements contained in Sec. 604. The College is hopeful that this guidance can help close coverage gaps for patients as well as assist health plans to be initially compliant with mental health parity requirements.
  • ACP supports the “action plan” of Sec. 605 that enhances enforcement of mental health and substance use disorder coverage by increasing Federal and State enforcement coordination.

Primary care physicians often are the first line of defense in helping to identify patients with mental health conditions and substance use disorders, Dr. Riley noted in his three-page letter.  “Primary care physicians are important in getting them the care they need. Furthermore, ACP believes that federal and state governments, insurance regulators, payers, and other stakeholders play key roles in addressing behavioral health insurance coverage gaps that are barriers to integrated care.” 

On the topic of substance use disorder, the College offered the recommendation that the Committee give consideration to incorporating in its legislative package the policy proposal often referred to as “partial-fill.” This would allow a patient to elect to receive a portion of a prescription, and return for either a portion of, or the remainder of the prescription, if the pain persists, up to a 30-day maximum.  ACP believes this policy could contribute to a significant reduction in unused pills available for misuse and diversion.

Dr. Riley completed his letter on behalf of the 143,000-member ACP by emphasizing that, “We appreciate your continued leadership on these important issues.  We stand ready to serve as a resource and welcome the opportunity to work with you going forward.”

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The American College of Physicians is the largest medical specialty organization and the second-largest physician group in the United States. ACP members include 143,000 internal medicine physicians (internists), related subspecialists, and medical students. Internal medicine physicians are specialists who apply scientific knowledge and clinical expertise to the diagnosis, treatment, and compassionate care of adults across the spectrum from health to complex illness. Follow ACP on Twitter and Facebook.

Contact: David Kinsman, (202) 261-4554, dkinsman@acponline.org