Mental Health Reform: The Time Is Now

 

 

Recently I had the good fortune to attend the National Association of Psychiatric Health Systems (NAPHS) conference in Washington, D.C.  It was a busy and intense few days as we immersed in information from key policy makers in the health care field, reviewed NAPHS advocacy priorities and visited the Capitol to meet with legislators from our states to advocate for behavioral health legislation promoting our policy priorities.

 

A stellar lineup of conference speakers included Sen. Bill Frist, former Senate Majority Leader and heart and lung transplant surgeon; Matt Salo, Executive Director of the National Association of Medicaid Directors; Marilyn Tavenner, President and CEO of America’s Health Insurance Plans; Paul Gionfriddo, President and CEO of Mental Health America; and Sen. Lamar Alexander, Chairman, Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee.

We had the opportunity to discuss important issues in the behavioral health field with Senators Elizabeth Warren and Ed Markey, Congressmen Jim McGovern, Seth Moulton and Congresswoman Niki Tsongas.

 

While Congressman Joe Kennedy was not in Washington during our conference, he met with me and David Matteodo, Executive Director of the Massachusetts Association of Behavioral Health Systems at his Newton office.  Congressman Kennedy’s commitment to behavioral health issues and his significant understanding of the nuances and complexities of our field is truly impressive and we’re looking forward to his upcoming visit to Bournewood.

 

It’s impossible to return from a conference and fact-finding mission like this without some significant take-aways. Our group is still processing the flood of information and expertise we were exposed to, but I can share some of the bi-partisan legislative activity related to behavioral health issues taking place in our nation’s capital and our opportunity to directly advocate for our priorities. There are currently two comprehensive mental health bills pending in the House and the Senate.  We pushed for five policy points for inclusion in the bills:

  • Eliminate the “190-day Medicare lifetime limit” which allows for just 190 days of inpatient care in a psychiatric hospital in a beneficiary’s lifetime.

  • Modify the Medicaid “Institutions for Mental Disease” (IMD) exclusion that prohibits adults aged 21-64 on Medicaid from accessing acute care psychiatric hospital care (We have a waiver in Massachusetts allowing coverage.).

  • Enforcement of Parity by requiring health insurers to disclose their policies and procedures related to parity.

  • Fund Medicaid and Medicare Information Technology for behavioral health.

  • Expand and train the workforce needed to meet the demand for mental health and addiction services.

 

What does this mean for us back in Massachusetts? Each one of these speaks to my three-prong approach for building and sustaining a person-focused and compassionate behavioral health organization like Bournewood Health Systems: fostering state-of-the-art treatment; operating an efficient and accountable organization; and be at the table to advocate for and make an impact on critical policy action such as parity enforcement.

 

At Bournewood, we believe that individuals with mental health and substance use conditions can recover, at any stage of life, with access to effective treatment and supports, enabling them to live, work, learn and participate fully in their community. The passage of these bills will help us realize this vision for the future of individuals living with mental health conditions. The time is now.

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