WASHINGTON, D.C. ― U.S. Rep. Ben Ray Luján of New Mexico’s Third District introduced a legislative package today of two bills aimed at rebuilding and strengthening behavioral health systems in New Mexico and across the country.
Luján’s legislation comes at a time when New Mexico’s behavioral health system has been thrown into crisis following the unwarranted suspension of payments to 15 providers that has resulted in patients losing access to care, hundreds of New Mexicans losing their jobs, and millions of taxpayer dollars wasted. The bills provide incentives for states to prioritize improvements and investments in their behavioral health system through matching federal funds and support efforts to fill the gaps in the behavioral health care workforce.
“New Mexico’s behavioral health system has been decimated by a manufactured crisis that has left too many of our most vulnerable neighbors without access to the care they need,” Luján said. “This legislative package provides the necessary support to encourage states to make mental health a priority and invest the resources needed to meet the demand for mental health services. Taken together, these bills can help New Mexico rebuild a system that meets the needs of those with mental health and substance abuse issues.”
The Behavioral Health Infrastructure Improvement Act provides an enhanced Federal Medicaid match for states that invest in and improve their behavioral health infrastructure, data, and access to care for Medicaid patients. The bill also provides grants for states to create an office of behavioral health assistance or behavioral health ombudsman. The funding would allow states to collect data, track usage, and quantify problems encountered by Medicaid patients seeking behavioral health treatment. In addition the ombudsman or office of assistance would provide information, referral care coordination, and other assistance to patients and providers.
The Peer Support Specialist Act addresses the significant shortage of mental health professionals across the United States by growing the peer professional workforce through the creation of a grant program through SAMHSA to develop and sustain behavioral health paraprofessional training and education programs and provide tuition support. The Health Resources and Services Administration designated 4,362 areas in the country as having a mental health professional shortage and estimated that another 2,700 mental health professionals are needed to meet the needs of the approximately 10 million Americans who live in one of these shortage areas.
Peer support specialists are individuals who have been through mental health treatment themselves and undergo extensive trainings to be able to support others through their treatment. An important piece for addressing the workforce shortage, peer support specialist can save the health care systems money be reducing hospitalizations through support for individuals in need of mental health services and their families.
“Disability Rights New Mexico strongly supports the goal of the Behavioral Health Infrastructure Improvement Act. An effective, independent consumer assistance office in New Mexico would go a long way toward assuring that people can access the behavioral health services they need,” Jim Jackson, CEO of Disability Rights New Mexico said. “The damaging changes in the past few years to New Mexico’s already fragile mental health system have created serious challenges to those seeking services, and we applaud Congressman Lujan’s effort to address this problem with a bill that would also provide benefit nationwide.”
“Easter Seals supports Congressman Luján’s advocacy to provide resources to states to improve their behavioral health system as well as their data collection. We believe it is important to prioritize behavioral health infrastructure, data, and access,” Patsy Romero, CEO of Easter Seals El Mirador said. “The support from Congress is paramount if we are to rebuild our broken system and protect the lives of many in the wake of the destruction of the Safety Net Provider Network after the State of New Mexico froze payments to 15 behavioral health providers.”
“The Behavioral Health Infrastructure Improvement Act is a huge step towards filling the gaps in the current mental health system to ensure improved quality of care and coordination for this vulnerable population, and NAMI New Mexico is in full support of Congressman Luján’s efforts,” said Kimmie Jordan, President of the National Alliance on Mental Illness-New Mexico (NAMI-NM).
“The effort to expand and utilize peer support specialists is a critically important solution to our national mental health workforce shortage,” said Paul Gionfriddo, CEO of Mental Health America. “Mental Health America appreciates SAMHSA and Congressman Luján for their efforts to ensure the workforce shortage is addressed and that people with mental health problems have access to care.”