Healthy Choices

Mental health law calls for, and funds, expanded services on par with physical health care

Mental health services will get a boost in funding with a bill by U.S. Rep. Doris Matsui, D-Sacramento, that supports a broad range of services and was signed into law this week by President Barack Obama.

The law sets in motion a $1.1 billion demonstration project to encourage the nation’s community mental health centers to provide comprehensive care, including 24-hour crisis care, increased integration of physical, mental and substance abuse treatment, and expanded support for families living with mental health issues.

“When people receive the quality mental health and substance abuse services they need, the benefits of treatment extend far beyond the individual – to their families, their professional colleagues and their community at large,” said Linda Rosenberg, president and CEO of the National Council for Behavioral Health.

It is estimated that the funding will help about 240,000 people receive critical mental and behavioral health and substance abuse services.

Rusty Selix is executive director of the Mental Health Association in California as well as executive director of the California Council of Community Mental Health agencies. Selix pointed to “the number of homeless people visible on the streets of any city” as testimony to “our nation’s neglect of this vulnerable population.”

The legislation was introduced a year ago by Matsui and New Jersey Republican Leonard Lance. The measure, referred to as the Excellence in Mental Health Act, allows stand-alone mental health facilities to tap into Medicare funds when expanded treatment requirements are met.

Matsui, who has been working with Sacramento area community leaders to develop mental health policy, called the signing a “historic step in expanding access to mental health services in communities across the nation.” The demonstration project will span several states, and Matsui plans to push for California’s inclusion.

“It is time for mental health to be treated on a level playing field with the rest of our nation’s health care system,” Matsui said. The bill’s signing “is a significant step forward in achieving true parity between physical and mental health care.”

The new law has the support of more than 50 mental health organizations, law enforcement organizations and veterans groups nationwide, including the National Association of Police Organizations, Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America and the National Alliance on Mental Illness.