Senators seek to reauthorize mental health reforms, grants in latest bid to improve access

A bipartisan duo of senators introduced legislation Monday to reauthorize a series of mental health and substance abuse programs expected to expire later this year. 

The Mental Health Reform Reauthorization Act of 2022 would reauthorize key block grant programs, expand access to pediatric mental health and aims to boost the mental health workforce. The legislation would reauthorize key programs passed in 2016 under the 21st Century Cures Act. 

“While we had already recognized the need for further improvement of these programs in the interim, the devastating impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on Americans’ mental health has further informed our approach to reauthorization,” according to a fact sheet on the legislation. “Our nation’s youth, in particular, have been hurt by extended school closures, which disrupted their academic learning and development of social coping skills.”

The legislation, introduced by Sens. Chris Murphy, D-Connecticut, and Bill Cassidy, R-Louisiana, would offer a major boost in funding to states under the Mental Health Services Block Grant. Another key provision would be to expand access to the federal government’s Pediatric Mental Health Care Access Program, which enables families to get mental healthcare for children. 

Another key priority is to improve recruitment in the mental health workforce. It would expand the federal government’s Minority Fellowship Program via a boost in funding and “inclusion of addiction medicine physicians to meet the need for a diverse substance use disorder treatment workforce,” the fact sheet said.

The new legislation comes as the Senate Finance Committee is preparing to launch its own package to improve mental health. The package, expected to be released this summer, is expected to strengthen laws that ensure pay parity between behavioral and mental health services among other key reforms.

Parity is addressed in Murphy and Cassidy’s bill, giving states $25 million to support states’ ability to enforce mental health parity.

The legislative push comes as lawmakers are hoping to improve access to mental health services after the devastating impact of the COVID-19 pandemic. 

A recent poll conducted by CVS Health and Morning Consult found that 59% of respondents experienced challenges with either their mental health or the well-being of a friend or family member, a 9% spike over 2020.