Senator Reverend Warnock Introduces Series of Mental Health Bills to Increase Access to Mental Health Services in Georgia, Nationwide

Today, Senator Reverend Warnock is announcing a slate of five bills that will improve and expand access to mental health care for all Georgians and Americans; more access to mental health services is urgently needed and had been exacerbated by the toll that COVID-19 has taken on many people’s mental health

Senator Reverend Warnock recently visited Columbus’ Dorothy Height Elementary School to highlight one of these bills, the Advancing Student Services in Schools Today (ASSIST) Act, which would establish a new federal grant program to hire mental health providers in schools and provide a sustainable funding stream to retain them

Senator Reverend Warnock: “Mental health care is health care. We are never going to fully address the health care crisis we are facing unless we start placing the same value on mental health care that we do with physical health care”

This new legislative package is Senator Reverend Warnock’s latest effort to increase health care access for Georgia families; he previously introduced legislation to cap out-of-pocket costs for insulin, lower the costs of prescription drugs, and to close the Medicaid coverage gap

ICYMI from the Columbus Ledger Enquirer: “’We’ve got to make sure we address this.’ Warnock pushes new mental health bills in Senate”

Washington, D.C. – Today, U.S. Senator Reverend Raphael Warnock (D-GA) introduced a legislative package of four bills and a resolution aimed at improving mental health care and access for Georgians and Americans. The new legislation combats the current mental health crisis by putting more funding toward hiring and maintaining mental health professionals in schools, and expanding access to peer support services—which will grow Georgia’s mental health care workforce and make mental health services more accessible. The new legislative package will also make mental health services immediately accessible after a major disaster, and increase government coordination for all mental health and substance use disorder activities.

“Mental health care is health care. We are never going to fully address the health care crisis we are facing unless we start placing the same value on mental health care that we do with physical health care,” said Senator Reverend Warnock. “There is a serious mental health crisis impacting our state which is why the legislative package I’m introducing addresses the mental health crisis from multiple angles. It will expand access to peer support services, expedite the availability of mental health services after a major disaster—like the one we are currently experiencing—and, importantly, put more funding towards hiring and maintaining critical mental health professionals in schools.” 

COVID-19 has exacerbated and highlighted the growing mental health crisis and on the need to focus on people’s mental health and well-being. many Georgians and Americans are urgently in need of access to quality, evidence-based mental health services. According to the Kaiser Family Foundation, forty-seven percent of people report the pandemic has negatively affected their mental health. Additionally, there has been an 891% increase in the number of calls to suicide prevention hotlines, and a significant increase in texts to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration’s (SAMHSA) mental health hotline. And, the nation has seen a 34% increase in alcohol sales and an 11.4% increase in overdose fatalities, which according to experts is due in part to people experiencing increased mental health challenges.  Now more than ever, people need access to mental health and substance use disorder services.

“I’m determined to get something done to expand access to—and prioritize—mental health care for all Georgians,” Senator Reverend Warnock added following the introduction of the package. 

Senator Reverend Warnock’s mental health package includes five pieces of new legislation:

  • Advancing Student Services in Schools Today (ASSIST) Act
    • This legislation would establish a new grant program at HHS to hire and retain mental health providers in schools. The legislation includes a 90% increase in federal matching funds to pay for those services. This increase is designed to allow the state to increase the rate of pay for providers, and also provide a sustainable funding stream to keep these professionals in schools. This legislation would put mental health professionals in schools and make them more accessible to students prior to a mental health crisis.
  • Improving Access to Tele-Behavioral Health Services Act
    • The Improving Access to Tele-Behavioral Health Services Act would create a new program at the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) to better provide community-based and peer support services virtually both during and after the pandemic, allowing individuals to interact with peers who have similar experiences of being diagnosed with mental and behavioral health conditions. It would provide training and development to increase the workforce, enable providers and peers to move their services virtually, and help identify and coordinate care for those who need access to multiple services.
  • The Crisis Counseling Act 
    • After being designated a disaster area under the Stafford Act, states, territories, and tribes must apply for approval to implement FEMA’s Crisis Counseling and Training Program (CCP). They then must wait to be approved before they can begin setting up the program and then submit additional supporting documents for cost and requested federal contribution. All of this can take weeks or months and delay the start of the CCP.  The Crisis Counseling Act would remove a step and automatically approve any state, territory, and tribe who is requesting the CCP and has already been given a Stafford Act declaration. This would allow requestors to immediately submit for budget approval and immediately work on implementing this critical program.
  • Behavioral Health Coordination and Communication Act
    • This legislation would establish a new Behavioral Health Coordination within the Executive Office of the President to coordinate all mental health and substance use disorder activities. It would also authorize a Government Accountability Office report on behavioral health reimbursement in schools and justice involved youth.
  • Behavioral Health Resolution 
    • This resolution expresses the sense that in order to effectively address the high prevalence of those suffering from mental health conditions and substance use disorder, the U.S. needs to make historic financial investments into mental health and substance use disorder care and finally acknowledge it as a priority in health care equal to physical health.

Senator Reverend Warnock has long been focused on strengthening health care access. Senator Warnock is the cosponsor of legislation to lower costs for prescription drugs, and earlier this month he introduced the Affordable Insulin Now Act, which would cap out-of-pockets costs for insulin at $35 per month. Additionally, as the sponsor of the Medicaid Saves Lives Act, Senator Warnock has pushed in the Senate to create a federal fix to close the Medicaid coverage gap in Georgia and the other 11 non-expansion states, to increase access to free and affordable health for more than 4 million Americans including roughly 646,000 Georgians. 

Read the full bill texts of the legislative proposals HERE, HERE, HERE, HERE and HERE.