Something refreshing actually came out of the U.S. Congress last week. In a rare display of bipartisanship, the Senate voted 94 to 5 to pass the 21st Century Cures Act, which is being called the most comprehensive mental health system reform legislation in the last 50 years.
Sponsored by Connecticut Sen. Chris Murphy, the bill previously won overwhelming support in the House and is expected to be signed into law this week. The Act also increases funding to the NIH and creates pathways for the FDA and drug and device companies to bring products to market sooner, but is especially targeted at the millions of Americans who suffer from mental illness and substance abuse. Among other things, it:
- authorizes $1 billion in new funding to fight the epidemic of opioid addiction;
- directs the Secretary to award grants for intensive pediatric intervention for children at risk or developing signs of mental illness;
- reauthorizes grants for a host of mental health programs like the Community Mental Health Services Block Grant funding already used in Connecticut;
- establishes a new Assistant Secretary for Mental Health and Substance Abuse within HHS to oversee grant funding and promote best practices for treatment; and
- puts actual teeth into federal laws requiring parity between health insurance coverage for physical and mental illness.
The Triennial State Substance Abuse plan issued by DMHAS earlier this year called opioid abuse “perhaps the single most important health concern we as a state are facing.” Connecticut residents also know all too well the devastating impact that childhood mental illness can have on our communities. So how in this era of massive budget shortfalls at the state level can Connecticut take full advantage of these new federal monies?
One place to start is with the Governor’s Certificate of Need Task Force which currently has proposals before it to lessen CON as a barrier to market entry for mental health/substance providers. Another would be to utilize the state’s network of public/private partnerships, economic development zones and academic medical centers to compete aggressively for the new grant funding to help restore and grow programs that are accountable for improving outcomes and the overall quality of behavioral health services provided.
The opportunity is there, now Connecticut must show it has the capability necessary to seize it.