On May 17, 2023, a hearing was held by the Senate HELP Primary Health & Retirement Subcommittee, “A Crisis in Mental Health and Substance Use Disorder Care: Closing Gaps in Access by Bringing Care and Prevention to Communities,” to discuss the disparities in access to mental health and substance use disorder care throughout the country.

Dr. Maria Celli, Deputy CEO of Brockton Neighborhood Health Center in Brockton, MA, suggested using mobile medical units, telehealth services, prioritizing pediatrics, and boosting support for integrated care team models as four potentials for continuing or extra support and ensuring that all pediatric patients have access to behavioral health screenings, evaluations, and therapies. The effects of the Certified Community Behavioral Health Clinic (CCBHC) model in Kansas were shorter wait times and better care coordination, testified Mr. Steven Denny, Deputy Director of the Four County Mental Health Center.

Dr. Warren Ng, President of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, emphasized the crisis in children’s mental health in the US and suggested the expansion of the child and adolescent psychiatry workforce as well as the introduction of telepsychiatry, school-based mental health services, integrated behavioral health and primary care models, and consultation programs for children with access to mental healthcare, as well as parity in insurance coverage and making investments in a more diverse workforce.

Dr. Stephen Taylor, President-elect of the American Society of Addiction Medicine, outlined policy intervention areas, including decriminalizing the prescription of methadone by addiction specialist doctors for the treatment of opioid use disorder, emphasizing the hiring, training, and retention of addiction specialist physician, and upholding federal laws requiring parity.

The witnesses and subcommittee members concurred that it is urgent to address the problems with mental health and substance use disorders in the US. The hearing emphasized the significance of readily available, high-quality mental health and drug treatment programs as well as the requirement for ongoing initiatives to address parity and the workforce.

By Asia Leach, Policy Intern