HHS to give out $15M to states to help set up mental health crisis clinics

The Biden administration wants more states to set up mental health clinics to help address a burgeoning crisis exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic. 

The Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) announced Tuesday $15 million in new funding from the Bipartisan Safer Communities Act to states to create or transform certified behavioral health clinics that offer crisis services regardless of whether a patient can pay. The funding announcement comes as lawmakers are searching for ways to address parity issues between behavioral and physical health as well as a crippling shortage of mental health providers. 

“We’re talking about providing to Americans 24/7 support for crisis care. That is something that’s only been available to some places but depending on your income and your ZIP code you could be totally out of luck,” said Department of Health and Human Services Secretary Xavier Becerra during an event in Washington announcing the new money. 

Currently, there are 10 states that get funding for such clinics, which get reimbursed via Medicaid for the full costs of services. The remaining states and the District of Columbia can apply for a planning grant, and 15 will be awarded $1 million to set up the clinics.

The funding builds on the $296.2 million announced last month to establish new mental health clinics and improve on existing ones.

“Approximately $66 million came from American Rescue Plan funds intended to address pandemic-related stressors that have increased mental health conditions among Americans,” HHS’ release said. 

A clinic must serve anyone who comes in for care regardless of whether they can pay. They also must offer routine patient care within 10 business days after an initial contact to avoid waiting list problems. 

The grant funding is the latest bid by the administration and Congress to address a surge in need for mental health services caused in part by the COVID-19 pandemic. A recent poll conducted by CNN and the Kaiser Family Foundation discovered 90% of Americans believe the country is facing a mental health crisis. 

The Senate Finance Committee is crafting a bipartisan legislative package aimed at several mental health barriers, chief among them the need for more providers and greater attention on youth mental health services. 

However, while some discussion text has been released, senators have not hammered out a final package. 

Sen. Debbie Stabenow, D-Michigan, said at the HHS event she hopes the package could be moved during the lame-duck congressional session that starts after the midterm elections next month. 

“I am hopeful we will see something,” she said. 

While senators have come to a consensus on how to handle a provider shortage and telehealth, it remains unclear how the finance committee will address mental health pay parity.

Committee Chairman Ron Wyden, D-Oregon, has previously been dismayed by reports that some insurers are not offering parity between paying for behavioral and physical health services, a requirement under the Affordable Care Act. Wyden has also decried the use of “ghost networks” by insurers, where patients sign up for a plan but the providers in that network aren’t accepting new patients or have incorrect contact information. 

A House bill seeks to levy fines on insurers for not meeting such requirements. The chamber passed the bill late last month, but opposition from the insurance industry may make passage difficult in the Senate.