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AMHCA Testifies to Congress

Wednesday, March 26, 2014   (0 Comments)
Posted by: Whitney Meyerhoeffer
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Testimony Cites Critical Barriers to Accessing Effective Mental Health Services, Need for Continuous Health Coverage with Comprehensive, Integrated Benefits

Contact: Joel Miller, jmiller@amhca.org
703-548-4474

Washington, D.C. -- March 26, 2014 -- The American Mental Health Counselors Association (AMHCA) testified today before a Congressional panel that the new Medicaid expansion program can address the access needs of millions of uninsured people with mental health conditions, but 25 states are balking at participating in the initiative. Medicare must also be modernized to include the professional services of clinical mental health counselors and marriage and family therapists, such as proposed in HR.3662.

 Access an archive video recording of the hearing by entering "Where Have All the Patients Gone? Examining the Psychiatric Bed Shortage" in the search field on the left-hand side of the Energy and Commerce hearings page
AMHCA – which represents 7100 clinical mental health counselors – said the Medicaid expansion program will promote stable, comprehensive health insurance coverage for 6.7 uninsured million people with mental illnesses who became eligible for coverage on January 1. However, only 25 states are implementing the expansion for newly eligible people, leaving nearly 4 million people with mental illness still uninsured.

Read the Energy and Commerce Committee Staff Report provided to the Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations Democratic Members and staff prior to the hearing; the report references AMHCA's "Dashed Hopes" study.

AMHCA Board Member Dr. LaMarr Edgerson (shown above), a clinical mental health counselor and licensed marriage and family therapist said, “The most significant barrier to accessing timely, effective quality mental health care is the lack of continuous, robust health insurance coverage that provides comprehensive mental health benefits from inpatient care services to prescription drugs to outpatient care to prevention programs. Essential benefits are provided in health plans governed by the Affordable Care Act, the State Medicaid expansion, and Medicare programs.”

The public hearing on access to mental health care, titled “Where Have All the Patients Gone: Examining the Psychiatric Bed Shortage," was held by the House of Representatives Oversight and Investigations Subcommittee of the Energy and Commerce Committee. “Because patients have trouble accessing services in the community—including prevention, early screening, medication management and therapy—they use the emergency department for basic, intermediate care, and when they are in crisis,” Dr. Edgerson highlighted.

The testimony by AMHCA noted that stable health insurance coverage is the pass-key to cost-effective, efficient, and timely mental health services in the United States.

Dr. Edgerson stated, “Medicaid expansion can afford people with mental health diagnoses greatly expanded access to mental health and substance use treatment in an integrated and community-based setting, with a person-centered treatment focus.” See AMHCA’s analysis of the Medicaid expansion program.

AMHCA points out that states would save money by transferring the costs of treating uninsured people with mental illness to the Medicaid program and could develop a stronger infrastructure of community-based services that will decrease the need for inpatient beds in some cases.

We believe it is unconscionable—as well as a huge financial mistake—that that Congress under Medicare and state policymakers under Medicaid have decided to deny their most vulnerable citizens – people with serious mental illness, people in serious psychological distress and those fighting substance use illnesses – stable health insurance coverage with comprehensive health care and mental health services. See AMHCA’s testimony.

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