President Barack Obama on Tuesday signed into law H.R. 4302, a bill to temporarily stave off Medicare physician payment cuts that also includes the historic Excellence in Mental Health Act demonstration program. The legislation, which passed the House last Thursday and the Senate on Monday night, establishes a $900 million, two year demonstration program in eight unspecified states to offer a broad range of mental health and substance use treatment services, including 24-hour crisis psychiatric services, while setting new standards for provider organizations.
“This represents the largest single federal investment in community-based mental and substance use treatment in well over a generation,” said Linda Rosenberg, President and CEO of the National Council for Behavioral Health. “After decades of devastating funding cuts, this represents a turning point in terms of federal support of community mental health services. As many as 240,000 people will be able to receive critical behavioral health services as a result of Excellence Act funding. Much work remains to ensure quality mental health and substance use treatment services are available to all who need them, but today is a day for celebrating this historic moment. And for applauding the bill’s tireless bipartisan champions, Senators Stabenow (D-MI) and Blunt (R-MO) along with Representatives Matsui (D-CA) and Lance (R-NJ).”
“Today’s vote is a landmark step forward in the effort to expand community mental health services for people living with mental illness and reduce the stigma around mental illness,” said Senator Debbie Stabenow, the bill’s lead sponsor. “This is a critically important issue that touches all of our families in some way and this legislation is one of the most significant steps in decades to expand access to care. I’m so thankful for the National Council for Behavioral Health’s strong support as we worked in a bipartisan way to strengthen mental health services.”
The legislation will reduce high hospital emergency room utilization among persons living with behavioral health conditions while easing the burden on hard-pressed law enforcement agencies in urban and rural areas. Additionally, the Excellence Act demonstration will assist the young men and women returning from Iraq and Afghanistan with service-connected mental disorders, including clinical depression and PTSD.