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Legislative Update
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Senate Considers, Then Pulls, Mental Health Legislation

By James Finley, Associate Executive Director and Director of Public Policy

Recently the full Senate debated gun violence legislation, but withdrew it from consideration on April 18 when it became clear the underlying bill could not pass. The Senate debated several amendments to the gun bill; one was a very modest measure to boost mental- health-service activities. 

A week prior to floor consideration, the Senate HELP Committee approved S.689, a small bill to address mental health needs related to the potential for gun violence. Many provisions simply reauthorized existing mental health programs, but some initiated new mental health activities, particularly in schools. To win broad Republican support, proponents drafted S.689 as a budget-neutral bill that didn’t start any new programs; however, some new activities were started under existing budget authority. 

Among the new activities authorized under S.689 were:

  • Positive behavioral interventions and supports for school children
  • Several studies, primarily on services for children
  • Promotion of school-based partnerships with clinical mental health services

Despite strong support for the mental health amendment (95–2), the future of S. 689 is very uncertain. Mental health groups plan to continue their support, but must now seek another legislative vehicle. 

Medicare Reform

AMHCA is continuing pushing for Medicare reform, focusing pressure on GOP legislators to support our endorsed bill, S.562, which adds recognition of mental health counselors under Medicare Part B. Recently the Maine Mental Health Counselors Association won an exciting victory by gaining the co-sponsorship of Sen. Susan Collins (R–Maine). A senior Republican, Collins could prove influential in advancing our efforts in the Senate. 

Thank you to our Maine members! AMHCA members with good contacts in a House Republican office are urged to contact AMHCA to maximize our efforts to win their support for this vital measure. 

Federal Budget Increases Mental Health Funding

The president’s budget, released recently, places a priority on mental health funding, including recognition of mental health counselors for new clinical training funds. It also includes $235 million for new programs to help identify mental health needs early and improve access to mental health services, including $30 million for research on gun violence prevention and mental health issues. 

AMHCA appreciates President Obama’s mental health workforce development plan for SAMHSA (Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration), which includes $50 million to train 5,000 new mental health professionals, including mental health counselors, to serve students and young adults. Some $35 million of these funds will be co-administered with the Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA), offering mental health counselor training programs full parity with other mental health professionals. 

Follow the latest information on all of our congressional activities on Facebook or AMHCA’s website.