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Luján Introduces Series Of Bills To Help States Improve Behavioral Health Systems; Address Inequities

on April 19, 2017 - 8:52pm
U.S. Rep. Ben Ray Luján
WASHINGTON, D.C. U.S. Rep. Ben Ray Luján (D-N.M.) has introduced a series of three bills that will help states to address health care inequities, improve services for patients seeking behavioral health treatment and deal with critical shortages in the behavioral health care workforce.
The New Mexico lawmaker noted that today, due to lack of services, those who battle mental health and substance abuse issues often cycle between emergency rooms, jails, and homeless shelters. As a result, too many families are hurting, too many people are suffering, and too many Americans are unable to access the care they need.
Luján’s first bill, the Behavioral Health Infrastructure Improvement Act, provides additional federal resources for states that invest in and improve their behavioral health infrastructure, data systems, and access to care for Medicaid patients seeking behavioral health services. The funding would allow states to collect data, track usage, and quantify problems encountered by Medicaid patients seeking behavioral health treatment.
In addition, the bill would create an ombudsman’s office to provide information, referral, care coordination, and other assistance to patients and providers.
“If we want states to build and maintain strong behavioral health systems, then we must provide the necessary support,” Luján said. “This legislation will have a broader impact as well. The federal government cannot continue to rely on inaccurate, incomplete, and untimely Medicaid data if we expect to ensure effective oversight of the Medicaid program. This bill will encourage states to prioritize fundamental investments in behavioral health while upgrading and improving data integrity.”
Luján’s second bill, the Peer Support Specialist Act, would increase the number of trained behavioral health professionals such as recovery coaches, mental health and addiction specialists, prevention specialists, and addiction counselors, and help communities develop the infrastructure to train and certify others as behavioral health professionals.
Luján said that demand for mental health and behavioral services are growing dramatically – especially in rural areas like northern New Mexico. Many of those coming forward have the same question: how can I find care for myself or for a loved one? Too often, this is a hard question to answer. The Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA) designated 4,362 mental health professional shortage areas across the United States.
Approximately ten million Americans live in one of these shortage areas, and almost half of Americans have unmet needs for mental health services. To correct the shortage, HRSA estimates we would need another 2,736 mental health professionals.
To meet the growing demand, Luján’s bill would use innovative peer support specialists as part of the answer.“Peer support specialists are individuals who have been through mental health treatment themselves, and undergo extensive training to be able to support others through their treatment,” noted Lujan. “The real-world experiences of peer professionals bolster workforce expertise and guarantee inclusion at all levels of the delivery system.”
The third bill in the series would address disparities in health care access and quality that exist in communities across the country. These disparities often are due to social and community-based barriers to care. While quality care often is available, communities of vulnerable populations may find unique issues that interfere with receiving that care. The Eliminating Health Disparities Act gives states and local communities the opportunity to improve access to quality health care by providing additional resources to safety-net hospitals and local partners.
Specifically, this legislation would:
  • allow states to establish a Health Disparities Elimination Program;
  • provide safety-net hospitals and other providers to apply for state funding to reduce disparities; and
  • provide funding for these initiatives for up to five years, include reporting requirements, and opportunities for renewal.
The legislation will allow states and local safety-net providers—who are best positioned to meet the needs of their neighbors—to address the unique challenges of their communities. “Tackling these disparity issues head-on ultimately will improve the incidence of adverse and preventable health outcomes, while reducing the cost of care,” Luján said.