Excellence in Mental Health Act: The most important piece of legislation you might not have heard of…

By Carl Clark, MD,
President & CEO of the WellPower

It’s been a monumental week with the passage of what I believe to be the most important piece of mental health legislation to come out of Washington since the Community Mental Health Act was passed fifty years ago.

And while you might not have seen anything about it on the nightly news, mental health advocates across the nation are celebrating the passing of the Excellence in Mental Health Act demonstration program. 

As National Council for Behavioral Health President & CEO Linda Rosenberg noted, “This represents the largest single federal investment in community-based mental and substance use treatment in well over a generation.”

Signed into law earlier this week by President Obama, H.R. 4302 is a bill to temporarily stave off Medicare physician payment cuts and also includes the historic Excellence in Mental Health Act demonstration program.  The legislation establishes a $900 million, two year demonstration program in eight unspecified states to offer a broad range of mental health and substance use treatment services, including 24-hour crisis psychiatric services, while setting new standards for provider organizations. 

Why is this so important?  Until now, there has been no official definition of what a community mental health center is.  Any time the federal government made changes around health care policy, mental health was left out due to not being on the list of official health care providers.  For example, the Health Information Technology Act was passed to encourage providers to move toward electronic health care records.  Facilities with federal designations, such as hospitals and health care clinics, received funding to support the transition.  But mental health was not included since it was not a recognized health care provider.  This was just one of many examples where mental health was overlooked and lost out on desperately needed funding.

Additionally, the Excellence in Mental Health Act raises the bar by establishing a certification program to define what constitutes a “mental health center.”  It’s important that people find centers that meet uniform provider criteria to ensure quality care and this will set the standard.

Most exciting is that this law will absolutely expand capacity and improve access to quality mental health care, a goal the WellPower is committed to supporting. 

The passing of the Mental Health Act is a clear indication that people across the country are taking mental health more seriously and realize it’s a vital issue.  It was heartening to see this legislation emerge as a shining example of bipartisan cooperation.  Both parties got behind it and came together to ensure its passage.  The National Council did an excellent job of keeping in front of legislators from both sides of the aisle to help it pass.

I’m so excited for all this law will help us accomplish.  If you’d like to learn more about the Excellence in Mental Health Act, click here for an overview from the National Council.