Bipartisan group of lawmakers seeks COVID-19 mental health funds

Tribune Content Agency

WASHINGTON — A bipartisan group of lawmakers is calling, in a letter provided first to CQ Roll Call, for an emergency infusion of mental health and addiction funding to be added to the next COVID-19 economic stimulus package.

The 76 lawmakers from both chambers wrote to House and Senate leaders Wednesday requesting at least $35.8 billion for behavioral health in the next legislative package.

Lawmakers are working on an agreement on the fifth piece of major legislation to address the health and economic impact of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The writers said this money would be used for evidence-based practices and that a large portion should be set aside for behavioral health organizations that accept Medicaid and perform services for other underserved populations.

The letter is spearheaded by Democratic Sen. Elizabeth Warren and Rep. Joseph P. Kennedy III, D-Mass. Other signers include Sens. Edward J. Markey of Massachusetts, Christopher S. Murphy of Connecticut and Debbie Stabenow of Michigan, as well as Reps. John Katko, R-N.Y., Doris Matsui, D- Calif., and Paul Tonko, D-N.Y.

“The immediate and long-term effects of this cannot be overstated as millions of Americans rely on BHOs to address their mental health and substance use disorder treatment needs,” the lawmakers wrote. “BHOs are crucial to the provision of behavioral health care to Americans across the country who rely on them for a variety of services, but are being burdened by the pandemic. “

According to the American Society of Addiction Medicine, behavioral health organizations have collectively predicted a $40 billion loss due to increased staff overtime and additional costs for protective equipment and telehealth implementation.

The economic aspects of the pandemic and an increased need for behavioral health services put many of these organizations in jeopardy of closing permanently.

“Furthermore, social distancing measures have created barriers to accessing treatment, which has only been exacerbated by a scarcity of available providers as they either fall ill or become overloaded with patients,” the letter reads.

A poll from the nonpartisan Kaiser Family Foundation released earlier this month found that 45% of respondents reported a negative toll on their mental health due to stress tied to the COVID-19 pandemic.


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