Stabenow’s Effort to Expand Access to Community Mental Health Services Signed into Law

The Detroit News

By Marisa Schultz

Washington — President Barack Obama signed into law Tuesday legislation sponsored by Sen. Debbie Stabenow that would expand access to community mental health services.

The legislation has been a personal crusade for Stabenow, D-Lansing, whose father went undiagnosed with bipolar disorder for about a decade as she was growing up in Clare. The bipartisan legislation would set up a pilot program in eight unspecified states to fund comprehensive community mental health, such as 24-hour emergency psychiatric services.

“It’s really a landmark step forward in community mental health funding,” Stabenow said Tuesday.

The House on Thursday passed a version of Stabenow’s Excellence in Mental Health Act that was part of the overall Medicare doctor reimbursement legislation. The Senate followed suit Monday night.

The Congressional Budget Office estimates the program would cost $1.1 billion over a decade. With the president’s signature, the legislation would kick-start an eight-state, two-year pilot program in which states would apply to participate to expand mental health services at the community health level. Depending on the outcomes, the program then could be expanded to nationwide program.

Local mental health authorities expect to work with the administration of Gov. Rick Snyder to try to become one of the eight pilot programs.

“We will be very active and aggressive in applying to be one of the eight states,” said Tom Watkins, president, CEO and executive director of the Detroit Wayne County Health Authority, who has worked on mental health issues with state Department of Community Health Director James Haveman.

“It could bring in over $100 million per state to tackle some needs, and we in Detroit-Wayne County serve 60 percent of the patients with mental illnesses and intellectual disabilities in the state,” said Watkins, a former state mental health director under Gov. James Blanchard.

The effort is the latest to overcome discrepancies between mental and physical health services. Stabenow noted insurance policies now must have parity between mental health and physical care coverage, but public funding for mental health services has lagged.

“People deserve to get accepted treatment for both,” Stabenow said. “That’s what this is all about.”