Cassidy presses for local help on mental health amid push for reform in Congress

Sen. Bill Cassidy, R-Louisiana, has called for local help in implementing key federal mental health programs as Congress hopes to pass reforms in the coming weeks. 

Cassidy spoke about the need for local help during a session Wednesday at the Milken Institute’s health summit in Washington, D.C. He has co-sponsored legislation that will reauthorize a series of mental health programs through 2027.

“The federal government can do as much as it wants, but if there’s not someone in the state or local area that takes these dollars and takes these programs and implement [then] it doesn’t happen,” Cassidy said during the summit. 

The Mental Health Reform Reauthorization Act of 2022—which is co-sponsored by Sen. Chris Murphy, D-Connecticut—would reauthorize a policy laboratory part of the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. It also reauthorizes several grants and assistance for children and adults as well as programs in the criminal justice system. 

The legislation would also offer grants to health insurers that meet requirements for pay parity between behavioral and physical health, a major issue that has garnered attention from the Senate Finance Committee. 

Cassidy gave examples of a local judge that applied to a veterans’ court, which the 2016 version of the legislation funded, that helps divert veterans who may have post-traumatic stress disorder or addiction issues into a treatment setting as opposed to a criminal one. 

“We have these programs out there, but unless we attempt to implement them the success will never be what it should be,” he said. 

A key driver in the reauthorization act is to expand the number of people who will be helped by the programs originally created back in 2016. 

While the legislation introduced back in May has widespread bipartisan and advocacy support, it has yet to make it through the Senate. 

Cassidy told Fierce Healthcare Wednesday during a short interview that it remains unclear whether the legislation would be included in an end-of-the-year spending package that must pass by next week to avoid a government shutdown.

“Everything’s on the table, and maybe nothing is on the table,” he said.