So far this year, the Administration has taken three key steps as part of our ongoing effort to increase access to mental health services.
First, the President signed an omnibus appropriations bill, securing $115 million for new mental health initiatives that the President and Vice President proposed in January 2013 as part of their comprehensive plan to reduce gun violence. This funding will have a real impact in communities across the country, where it will be used to train more mental health professionals and help educators and other adults who work with youth recognize the early signs of mental health problems and refer young people to appropriate help when needed. The funds will also be used for a new initiative which will support innovative state-based approaches to making sure young people ages 16 to 25 who are at high risk for mental illness don’t fall through the cracks of our mental health system when they leave school or home.
Second, on January 31, with funding from the Affordable Care Act, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services made $50 million available to help Community Health Centers across the country establish or expand mental and behavioral health services for people living with mental illness or addiction. Using these funds, Health Centers can hire new mental health professionals and add mental health and substance use disorder services. This new funding was first announced by Vice President Biden last December. At that time, the Vice President also announced that the U.S. Department of Agriculture has set a new goal of financing $50 million for the construction, expansion, or improvement of mental health facilities in rural areas over the next three years.
And finally, on January 1, 2014, the Affordable Care Act went into full effect. For the first time ever, Americans across the country can no longer be denied health insurance or charged more based on a pre-existing mental illness. Health plans offered through the new Health Insurance Marketplace are now required to cover ten categories of essential health benefits, including mental health and substance use disorder services.
The Administration will continue to look for steps we can take to help prevent mental health problems and make sure people experiencing mental health problems get the help they need. As the Vice President said in December, “The fact that less than half of children and adults with diagnosable mental health problems receive the treatment they need is unacceptable. The President and I have made it a priority to do everything we can to make it easier to access mental health services.”
Stefanie Feldman is the Assistant Director for Policy in the Office of the Vice President