Thank you, President Biden, for your leadership on mental health
There are few more important venues than the State of the Union to highlight issues of urgent importance for our country. So we were thrilled to hear President Joe Biden include mental health as part of his “Unity Agenda.”
There’s no question that the U.S. faces a mental health crisis, with underrepresented communities disproportionately impacted. The COVID-19 pandemic has disrupted lives, caused immeasurable pain for hundreds of thousands of people who have lost loved ones, and generated uncertainty and fear about what’s next.
To address the crisis, we need to rebuild our behavioral health workforce, invest in the mental health of our youth, ensure that mental health and substance use disorder services are covered by insurance, and fix our response to people facing a mental health crisis. The Steinberg Institute has been advocating for these priorities in California since our launch in 2015.
The White House has provided a fact sheet outlining the president’s plan. Here are some key highlights:
We face a critical shortage of behavioral health providers across the country and in California. The president’s FY23 budget will include a $700 million investment in training, scholarships and loan repayment programs, along with a national peer certification program, and an expansion of community behavioral health clinics.
The workforce shortage is at a critical stage in California. This year the Steinberg Institute is sponsoring The Behavioral Health Workforce Revitalization Act, which addresses California’s immediate behavioral health workforce crisis and develops solutions that build a sustainable and equitable behavioral health workforce.
The 988 crisis line is launching in July, and many states may not be prepared for the expected influx of calls. President Biden’s FY23 budget includes a nearly $700 million investment to launch 988 and strengthen community-based crisis response. Implemented correctly, 988 will ensure that people needing urgent mental health help are connected to mental health professionals. Currently, a 911 call often prompts a law enforcement response.
In California, Governor Gavin Newsom committed $20 million in 2021 to the state’s 988 launch. Our team continues to work with the governor and lawmakers to ensure that the crisis line and response teams have sustainable funding after the initial rollout.
We know that early treatment for mental health conditions is critical, but the cost of mental health care is a significant barrier to people getting the help they need. The president is proposing that all health plans (including Medicare, TRICARE, and all of Medicaid) cover behavioral health services with an adequate network of providers, including three free behavioral health visits each year.
In 2020, the Steinberg Institute sponsored California Senate Bill 855, requiring insurers to cover “medically necessary treatment” for all mental health and substance use disorders. SB 855 closed loopholes in previous parity legislation by defining medically necessary treatment and requiring the medical necessity determinations be consistent with generally accepted standards of care. It also prohibited limiting benefits or coverage to short-term or acute treatment. The bill passed in 2020.
The COVID-19 pandemic has taken a serious toll on the mental health of our youth. President Biden is proposing a $1 billion investment to double the number of school-based mental health professionals. He also wants to expand early childhood and school-based intervention services, institute stronger online privacy protections for youth and invest in research on how social media impacts youth mental health.
Last year the California legislature approved Governor Newsom’s $4.4 billion Children and Youth Behavioral Health Initiative. Strongly supported by the Steinberg Institute, this initiative provides a historic investment that expands access to care for youth through more school counselors, behavioral health coaches, and via an online platform for students.
So what’s next?
Today Health and Human Services Secretary (and former California Attorney General) Xavier Becerra announced the “National Tour to Strengthen Mental Health.” Secretary Becerra says that the administration wants to hear from Americans about the behavioral health challenges they’re facing.
“We are hitting the road to deliver the president’s message of hope and unity — to listen and bring solutions to tackle this together,” he told USA TODAY.
California has a great story to share. The state has been considered a leader in addressing mental health since the 2004 passage of the Mental Health Services Act, authored by our founder Darrell Steinberg. The tax on millionaires generates billions every year toward mental health services. Also, thanks to the bold vision of Governor Gavin Newsom and lawmakers, the state is making historic investments in mental health initiatives and housing for people facing homelessness.
Now, many of the priorities that we have been championing in California are part of a national strategy that could have lasting impacts on all Americans.
It’s hard to overstate the importance of this moment. There is much more to be done, and we won’t rest until mental health is treated with the same urgency as physical health. But through his words and actions, President Biden has elevated mental health to the place of importance that it deserves.