As the COVID-19 pandemic becomes more rampant, policymakers are increasingly turning their attention to another underlying crisis in the United States – mental health and the lack of services to meet growing demand. .
Lawmakers last month introduced a bill aimed at addressing the nation’s mental health workforce shortage. Subsequently, the House passed a separate bill that would inject more mental health professionals into schools and increase access to mental health care for students.
That bill – called the Mental Health Matters Act – passed by a vote of 220 to 205, with one Republican joining all Democrats voting in favor.
Rep. Mark DeSaulnier (D-California), who sponsored the bill, noted that educators have often been on the front lines of dealing with the current youth mental health crisis. This was highlighted by US Surgeon General Dr. Vivek Murthy in a subsequent report and action plan released last year.
This dynamic has become particularly tense given rising rates of suicide, anxiety and depression, as well as gun violence among young people.
“Our schools lack the specialized staff needed to respond to the increased prevalence and complexity of student mental health needs,” DeSaulnier said in a statement. “Simply put, the Mental Health Matters Act provides the resources students, educators and families need to improve their well-being.
Additionally, the bill would offer grant programs to schools to strengthen their mental health services and providers.
It would also seek to improve mental health parity, ensuring that mental health and addiction conditions are equal to insurance plan coverage as physical conditions. The bill would impose penalties on insurers who fail to meet federal mental health parity requirements.
Advocacy groups like the National Alliance on Mental Illness and organizations like the American Psychiatric Association have touted the bill, noting that mental health parity would be integral to strengthening the health care infrastructure. mentality of the country.
Still, the bill was defeated by House Republicans and some industry groups who opposed the bill. They argue that the penalty provisions would backfire and encourage insurers to drop mental health coverage altogether.
Representative Virginia Foxx (R-NC) argued that the bill “contains dangerous policy that would threaten access to essential social benefits.”
“Employers who provide mental health benefits under the Employee Retirement Income Security Act (ERISA) do so voluntarily,” Foxx said in a statement. “They shouldn’t be penalized for breaking standards that aren’t clear and vague.”
Industry group ERISA Industry Committee (ERIC), meanwhile, argued that the bill would increase costs and make it “more difficult for employers to provide benefits.”
A recent report by the nonpartisan federal agency Congressional Budget Office estimated that given the current number of violations of mental health parity rules (about 11 a year), the penalties collected would amount to about 29 million dollars in total between 2022 and 2032.
The bill is now heading to the Senate, where Democrats hold a narrow margin ahead of the upcoming midterm elections.