Alert: Urge Senators to Vote Today for Excellence in Mental Health Act!

NYAPRS Note: Your help is needed to support federal passage of the Excellence in Mental Health Act that would strengthen national community mental health and addictions treatment systems by creating and granting Federally Qualified Behavioral Health Centers (FQBHCs) status that would "offer a foundation for a whole-person approach to health that recognizes community behavioral healthcare organizations' experience and potential in treating complex patients with difficult healthcare needs."According to today's Politico piece below, this measure has not gained adequate support in the Senate. Please go to to urge US Senators to vote today in favor of the Excellence in Mental Health Act!

Mental Health Is Pushed Down On Hill Agenda By: Paige Winfield Cunningham Politico April 10, 2013

Lawmakers have filed plenty of mental health care bills since the Newtown, Conn., killings, hoping they'd get attached to any agreement on gun control.

But the ambitions are shrinking.

The only mental health legislation with much steam right now would mostly just reauthorize existing programs, not embark on major expansions. And it's still unclear whether even that version will be tacked on to a possible gun bill, or whether mental health legislation would have a better chance of passage on its own.

On Tuesday night, the Senate appeared to be close to a bipartisan deal to expand background checks on gun sales.

Sens. Tom Harkin and Lamar Alexander, the top ranking Democrat and Republican on the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee, will hold a committee vote Wednesday on a bipartisan mental health package that would reauthorize programs aimed at suicide prevention and mental health in schools.

But the package is much slimmer than advocates had sought. They'd been pushing instead for a bipartisan bill championed by Sens. Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.) and Roy Blunt (R-Mo.) that would open the door to more Medicaid reimbursement for community health centers but cost an additional $1.4 billion.

"There's a lot of really good things in [the HELP legislation], but most of them are discretionary grant programs," said Chuck Ingoglia, vice president for public policy at the National Council for Community Behavioral Healthcare.

Both Democrats and Republicans have said that mental health care is an important part of reducing gun violence. And they've filed a bevy of measures over the past few months aimed at improving mental health access and services.

But passing legislation is a different story, given the political complications that come with gun control and the near-impossibility of finding funding for new programs.

While adding mental health provisions to a gun measure has been viewed as the easiest way to get something passed, aides for Harkin say the senator will try to push through the package on its own if gun talks fail.

And Stabenow said she would offer her bill as an amendment if the Senate votes on a gun control measure. If not, she'll try to get it on the floor on its own. "We're not going to give up until we get this passed, so we'll look for the venue to do it," she said Tuesday.

But Stabenow hasn't yet said how she'll pay for her bill - one of the potential hang-ups. That's why Harkin and Alexander's package does little beyond reauthorizing existing programs. In order to keep many Republicans on board, it couldn't create any new spending beyond what Congress has already agreed to.

So in an effort to remain budget-neutral, the Harkin/Alexander package calls for some studies on mental health care and reauthorizes programs to prevent suicide and improve mental health in schools that have already been operating for years.

"I think that was part of the quandary they faced, what they could get through," Ingoglia said.

Advocates say that after years of mental health getting little attention from Congress, they're just excited to see a resurgence of interest. But Ingoglia said Stabenow's bill would be more "exciting" for the mental health community.

"It tries to address some of the fundamental problems we have in the mental health system," he said.

Veterans groups have recently signed on to the Stabenow/Blunt bill, which the senators introduced in February but highlighted again on Tuesday.

The legislation would designate certain community mental health centers as Federally Qualified Community Behavioral Health Centers - opening the door to more Medicaid reimbursement. That parallels the special designation given to certain community health centers that provide primary care.