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Advocacy Alert: HEROES Act

Posted By Alicia Hynes, Tuesday, July 14, 2020

As the COVID-19 pandemic continues to impact communities across the country, we are increasingly worried about the resulting crisis in our mental health system – one that our country is not prepared to address.

While the House passed the HEROES Act in May, the 4th large COVID-19 relief package, the Senate has yet to pass its own version. A number of provisions in earlier relief packages, like expanded unemployment benefits, are set to expire later this month. This, along with the possibility of programs like the Paycheck Protection Program running out of funds in the near future, may force the Senate to act by late July. As the Senate determines its path forward, NAMI has been working with partners to make sure that any relief package prioritizes mental health.

This means the next few weeks will be crucial for mental health advocates to raise the importance of prioritizing mental health in any package.

In this memo, you’ll find:

  • NAMI’s priorities in the next COVID-19 relief package and status update on federal activities

Please read! A “Take Action” section on how to help mobilize advocates and partners to press Senate leaders to #Act4MentalHealth

Federal Update on NAMI COVID-19 Priorities

Priorities for next Senate COVID-19 relief package

In both the House-passed HEROES Act and in any future Senate legislation, NAMI has joined with the mental health community to advocate for several key priorities, including:

  • Providing flexible funds of $4 billion for the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA). These funds would include $1.5 billion for the Community Mental Health Services Block Grant and an additional $2 billion for the Substance Abuse Prevention and Treatment Block Grant, as well as additional resources for other programs, like an increase to the Suicide Prevention Lifeline. These resources would help states provide mental health services amid budget cuts.
  • Increasing the Medicaid federal matching rate (Federal Medical Assistance Percentage, or FMAP) by 7.8 percentage points. Congress has already increased the FMAP by 6.2 percentage points. This additional increase will help states balance their budget without cutting as deeply into Medicaid programs, including mental health and addiction treatment.
  • Providing Medicaid coverage 30 days before release from incarceration for individuals who are eligible for Medicaid through The Medicaid Reentry Act. Currently, the Medicaid Inmate Exclusion doesn’t allow health care providers to bill Medicaid if they treat people in jail, limiting access to care when they reenter the community.
  • Ensuring that CMS has Congressional authority to continue increased telehealth flexibility one year after the COVID emergency ends. Increased use of telehealth has helped many people, including those with mental health conditions, receive needed services during this pandemic, and these flexibilities should remain in place while more permanent changes are evaluated.

Provider relief fund

NAMI has also been a vocal advocate to ensure that mental health providers are guaranteed the emergency relief they need through allocations from the provider fund, established and funded by previous relief bills. So far, the provider fund has largely gone to Medicare providers, which represents only a small share of revenue for mental health providers.

In June, NAMI joined 26 other mental health organizations to send a letter to the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) urging action on this issue. HHS has since committed to making an additional distribution from the provider fund for behavioral health providers. As an organization representing peers and families, we see the impact when people can’t get mental health care because providers are reducing services or shutting their doors, and we will continue to advocate on this issue until it is resolved.

9-8-8 legislation

Finally, establishing 9-8-8 as a nationwide, 3-digit hotline for mental health crises and suicide prevention is getting closer to a reality. The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) is expected to vote on making 9-8-8 operational within two years at their July 16 meeting. Meanwhile, S. 2661 passed by unanimous consent in the Senate. This legislation is critical to provide a way to fund the infrastructure to make 9-8-8 operational. The House passed a different version of the bill in the HEROES Act in May. In order to ensure its speedy passage, NAMI is pushing for the House to consider the Senate bill under the “suspension calendar,” which is a process to quickly pass bills that are not controversial. Both actions will set 9-8-8 into motion. Please note: 9-8-8 is not currently available. If you or somebody you know is in mental health crisis, text “NAMI” to 741741 or call the Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255.

Take Action: Story Collection

NAMI is collecting recorded or written stories of individuals who have experienced (or witnessed first-hand) the mental health impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic to influence Senate action. Stories can be submitted at: nami.quorum.us/COVID19Storiesaw/.

In addition to outreach to our mental health advocates, we need your help to reach health care workers and other frontline professionals to share their mental health experience during this crisis.

As respected leaders in your communities, you work directly with the professionals on the frontlines of this emergency. NAMI’s national office is reaching out to our national partners, but your outreach to in-state organizations, such as those representing clinicians (medical associations, nursing or pediatrics groups, social workers, mental health providers, etc.) could help gather impactful stories that we would otherwise miss.

We’re looking for stories that answer any of the following questions and include why it’s important that the U.S. Senate makes mental health a priority in future COVID-19 legislation:

  • How has COVID-19 impacted the mental health of the people you serve/work with?
  • How has it impacted your mental health or those you work with?
  • How has it impacted your ability to provide mental health care?
  • How has COVID-19 impacted your own mental health?
  • Are you experiencing new feelings or worsening of symptoms?

Video stories should be up to 90-seconds long, filmed on a cell phone, and share a personal experience while answering any of these questions. See the attached PDF for more details. Completed videos (or written stories) can be submitted at: nami.quorum.us/COVID19Storiesaw/.

For issues with uploading stories, please email Brandon Graham at bgraham@nami.org.

 

Sample email to partners:

Dear XX,

I’m writing today to ask for your help with an effort that is important to NAMI.

While we know you are working on your own critical priorities, mental health is touching nearly everyone as a result of the pandemic. Nearly half of Americans are reporting that COVID-19 has had an effect on their mental health.

We’re particularly concerned about the mental health impact of the pandemic on health care professionals, including [PROFESSION OF ORGANIZATION YOU ARE CONTACTING]. That’s why we’re working to collect video and written stories from people on the frontlines of this crisis about their first-hand experiences with mental health – either personally, in their family, among colleagues or with the people they serve—and why it’s essential that mental health is included in Congress’ COVID-19 response.

If you can share this request with your members or if you know of any members that would be interested in sharing their story, can you pass this information along? Attached is a one-pager with more information about this story collection effort. Advocates interested in sharing their experiences can visit https://nami.quorum.us/COVID19Storiesaw/ to upload a video or write their story.

Let us know if you have any questions. We appreciate your support in making sure everyone who is struggling with their mental health during this pandemic can get the help they need.


Tags:  advocacy  coronavirus  covid-19  mental health 

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