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Lawmakers aim to expand access to mental health | Bills and Laws

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Article

Lawmakers are seeking to create a Senate commission on mental health to examine ways to make it easier for Americans to get the help they need.

Skinny

Two U.S. senators have proposed legislation to create a commission to make mental health more affordable and accessible for Americans.

Images: U.S. Senate

U.S. Sen. John Fetterman, D-Pa., and Tina Smith, D-Minn., want to create a Senate commission to expand access to mental health services.

Sponsors

U.S. Sen. John Fetterman, D-Pa., and Tina Smith, D-Minn., have sponsored the legislation (S.4312).

Summary

The senators have crafted a measure to create the U.S. Senate Commission on Mental Health. The Commission is intended to give lawmakers and the president expert advice on mental health and how to make it easier for people to get behavioral health services.

Analysis

Fetterman has talked openly about his own struggles with mental health. Not long after his election to the Senate, he checked into Walter Reed National Military Medical Center to get treatment for clinical depression.

In a July 2023 interview with The New York Times, Fetterman said, “I realized that if I do harm myself, I will leave behind for my children a blueprint that, if something happens with you, that’s the answer. I can’t do that to anyone.”

In a May 29 interview with MSNBC’s “Morning Joe” to talk about the legislation, Fetterman said people have told him how much his disclosures about his mental health battles have helped them. And he said even for those who haven’t struggled with their mental health, it’s likely affected “someone that you love, someone that you know, someone that you work with.”

Now, Fetterman said it’s an important conversation to have on a national level. And he’s hoping for support for the legislation since it’s “such a red and a blue county situation.”

“It’s very bipartisan and I think it’s a critical issue,” Fetterman said on MSNBC.

Under the bill, the commission would produce an annual report looking at barriers to affordable and equitable mental health services and the challenges of behavioral health clinicians. The commission would make recommendations to Congress and the president.

The Senate commission would examine Medicare and Medicaid reimbursement rates for mental health services. It would also examine the coverage of mental health services under federal health plans.

The commission would also look at the challenges of mental health clinicians, including burnout among providers. And the commission would look at barriers to those looking to pursue careers as mental health clinicians.

“More than 1 in 5 Americans struggle with their mental health, and new research and treatment is needed,” Smith said in a statement.

Healthcare leaders have also warned about the growing mental health crisis of children and teens, as many hospitals have seen sharp increases of kids showing up in emergency rooms for mental health emergencies.

Surgeon General Vivek Murthy issued an advisory outlining what he described as the epidemic of loneliness and its toll on public health.

Fetterman said he hopes the bill can help more people get the help they need.

“I was just very lucky. I was able to check into Walter Reed,” Fetterman said in the MSNBC interview. “Not a lot of Americans can do that. Because that’s not possible. What I can do is pay it forward.”

Supporters

Mental health advocates have come out in support of the legislation.

Hannah Wesolowski, chief advocacy officer of the National Alliance on Mental Illness, endorsed the bill to help people get the services they need.

“Too many people struggling with their mental health aren’t getting the care they need. We need to do better,” Wesolowski said in a statement. “To address our nation’s mental health crisis, we will need collaboration and leadership from Congress, federal policymakers, and key stakeholders.”

The American Foundation for Suicide Prevention has also endorsed the bill. Laurel Stine, the foundation’s executive vice president and chief policy officer, told WENY News that the bill can help bring policymakers and advocates together.

“We are facing a mental health crisis, a suicide crisis, and a substance use crisis,” Stine told WENY.

Getting help

988 Suicide & Crisis Lifeline: Dial or text 988 to connect with someone. Help is available 24/7.

The American Foundation for Suicide Prevention offers resources for healthcare professionals.

NAMI: The National Alliance for Mental Illness offers “frontline wellness” resources for healthcare workers and public safety employees.

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