Matsui seeks mental health funding

03/21/2013 12:00 AM

09/27/2013 3:23 PM

Bipartisan legislation introduced in Congress this week would bolster funding for mental health centers, partly with the goal of curbing gun violence.

The measure, referred to as the Excellence in Mental Health Act, would allow stand-alone mental health facilities to tap into Medicaid funds, called Medi-Cal in California.

Experts say that one in four people develop a mental health problem at some point in their lives. With appropriate care and, in some cases medication, behavioral conditions can be managed much like other ailments.

The bill was jointly introduced by California Democratic Rep. Doris Matsui and New Jersey Republican Leonard Lance.

By providing new coverage for mental health services, the legislation could help treatment programs such as Turning Point, which operates several facilities in the Sacramento Valley. Turning Point officials say their program offers help and a place to stay for people experiencing mental health crises.

In recent months, Matsui has been active in a number of local forums aimed at improving access to behavioral health care.

"It is time for mental health to be treated on a level playing field with the rest of our natiion's health care system," Matsui said.

Lance said boosting federal funds for mental health services may help prevent future mass shootings in the United States by reaching more people with severe behavioral problems.

"Although many gun-control proposals remain contentious, members of Congress from both sides of the aisle agree that improving mental health care must be part of any broader effort to reduce gun violence," Lance said.

He said the bill would expand access to mental health services at community clinics "so that we can better identify and treat those at risk of violent behavior."

In order to access Medi-Cal funding, community clinics in California would have to meet specific standards.

Among those criteria are providing 24-hour crisis care; increased coordination of physical, mental, and substance abuse treatment; and more support for families of people living with mental illness.

Call The Bee's Cynthia H. Craft, (916) 321-1270. Follow her on Twitter @cynthiahcraft.

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