Advocacy for Federal Mental Health Legislation

Action at the federal level has been busy, confusing, and moderately successful during the last year.  Numerical designations and titles of bills change as they are modified and time passes.  Controversial items included the role of SAMHSA and funding for serious mental illness versus other mental health issues, sharing patient information with family members, involuntary commitment, and the value of peer services.

One of the best sources to follow federal legislation is  You can get email updates about progress by entering a bill’s number, find out if your representative is a co-sponsor or voted for the legislation and get a summary of the bill’s provisions.  NAMI offers surprisingly little analysis of proposed legislation, but does sent out action alerts.  Psychiatric News provides articles about legislation the American Psychiatric Association supports.  Mental Health America offers a good list and description of mental health proposals.   Their reservations about the proposals are helpful.

Criminal justice is one area in which Democrats and Republicans have found common ground.  Unlikely allies have joined to push the Comprehensive Justice and Mental Health Act.  Sens. Al Franken (D-Minn) and John Cornyn (R-Texas) co-sponsored (S993), which passed the Senate in December.  Rep. Doug Collins (R-Georgia) introduced an identical bill (H.R. 1854) , which was sent for action to the full House in January.  That bill is co-sponsored by 57 Democrats, including liberal luminaries such as Charlie Rangel and John Conyers, and 40 Republicans.  Our own liberal luminary Rep. Mark Pocan (D) is not a co-sponsor, as of today.   The bill would provide funding for many of the criminal justice reforms proposed by the Dane County Board of Supervisors.  More information is available on this blog in the criminal justice category.

Sens. Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.) and Patty Murray (D-Wash.) introduced the Mental Health Awareness and Improvement Act (S 1893).  They are chair and ranking member of the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee and have worked together to promote mental health reform.  The legislation passed the Senate and went to the House for action.  It includes an eclectic group of provisions addressing mental health services for children, drug addiction, and integration of mental health and substance abuse treatment.

Other legislation proposed includes the Helping Families in Mental Health Crisis Act of 2015 (HR 2646), and the Mental Health Reform Act of 2015 (S 1945).  Check back for action on these bills.











Republican Governors Decide Medicaid Expansion Helps their Budget Woes

Oklahoma is one of the reddest of the red states.  Republicans hold every state office and control the state legislature.   It is also one of 19 states that turned down federal funds that would have allowed the expansion of Medicaid.

But, according to a story reported today by AP, the governor and other Republican leaders are turning to Medicaid funds to help them address a $1.3 billion budget deficit and a failing health care system.  They are not alone in their revisionism about the benefits of taking money from the federal government for health care.  Families USA reported that Republican governors in 10 states support Medicaid expansion.

A recently elected Louisiana Governor John Bel Edwards (D) vowed to accept the money, which will help address the state’s severe budgetary problems and provide health care to 300,000 low-income state residents.  He said, “This is not a left versus right thing.  This is right versus wrong.”





Next Steps for Mental Health Advocacy in Wisconsin

The 2015-2016 Wisconsin legislative session has ended.  Check out the websites for the Wisconsin Psychiatric Association (advocacy button) and NAMI Dane County for legislative summaries.  (The summary is in the May newsletter.)

Victories were few. Funding was authorized for treatment and diversion programs targeted to heroin and opioid addictions and for an electronic means of tracking available inpatient psychiatric beds.  A small pilot project focusing on the coordination of behavioral and other medical health care was authorized for Medicaid patients.

Fall elections create the next opportunity to bring about a state legislature that is more responsive to funding mental health services. NAMI-WI posted a list of questions to ask candidates.  Their priorities include a focus on early intervention, implementation of mental health parity and decreasing the number of people with mental illness in jails and prisons.  The last issue has gained strong bipartisan support from all levels of government in every area of the country.  See the Stepping Up Initiative for information that will help build a cost-effectiveness case, as well as a moral one.

Wisconsin is one of 19 states that refused federal funds to expand its Medicaid (Badger Care) program.  The federal government pays 100 percent of costs for expanded services for three years and 90 percent thereafter.  Governor Scott Walker turned down the funds, alleging concerns about future costs to the state.

Evidence is becoming available that shows the economic benefits to states that expanded Medicaid.   Simply put, a healthier population means a reduction in other kinds of costs to taxpayers.  Check out Medicaid posts on this blog to find studies that will help you make the case that Medicaid expansion can save money for Wisconsin taxpayers.  Use the information to question candidates for the state legislature.


Next Steps for Mental Health Advocacy in Dane County

Get started by checking out the home page of the Dane County Executive here.  You will find buttons for budget, press releases, policy initiatives and an email contact.  Checking press releases can be helpful to find out any recent action about mental health.  Policy initiatives will give you an idea of the priorities of the executive.

The budget process begins with the county executive and county departments.  From March-May, the executive prepares budget guidelines, which departments use to prepare their requests in June and August.  In September, watch for the joint county executive and county board of supervisors public hearings on the budget.  In October, the county board of supervisors holds public hearings and in November, it deliberates and votes on the budget.  September and October are months in which public testimony is welcome, but communication with your supervisor  can occur at any time.

To find your supervisor on the Dane County Board of Supervisors, click here.   To find a listing of board committees and meeting times, click here.  You will also find information about sending an email to your supervisor or to the entire board.  For more detail about the Dane County budget process, click here.

NAMI-Dane County is the only advocacy organization I have identified that is focused strictly on mental health, although many organizations have mental health services as one aspect of their missions.  MOSES is an interfaith organization that has been very active in criminal justice reform measures that affect people with mental illness.  I would be happy to receive information about other organizations.

Reform of Dane County’s criminal justice system, particularly in relationship to people with mental illness, should be reflected in budgetary proposals.  Last summer, the task group on criminal justice/mental health/solitary confinement reported to the board with 10 recommendations.  See here.   A team of five members, including a county board representative, attended the recent Stepping Up Summit in Washington, D.C., that focused on how to decrease the number of people with mental illness in jails and prisons.

Please check back for information about advocacy at the state and federal levels, including sources of research that will help you make a case for better services.








WI NAMI Launches Early Intervention Programs

WI NAMI, the state affiliate of the National Alliance on Mental Illness, is coming full circle by honoring the memory of NAMI’s founders with an effort to promote the mental health of young people.  Nearly 40 years ago, a small group of women in Madison met to discuss how to help their children with serious mental illness.  They went on to found NAMI, which today is the country’s leading advocacy and support organization for those concerned with mental illness.

With its 100 Extraordinary Women Celebration, WI NAMI is launching a new youth mental health movement.  The aim is to change the way young people talk about and access mental health supports. Funds will be used to cultivate youth leaders who can encourage open dialogue among their peers about mental health problems and to provide resources for the adults in their lives. More information, including how to donate, is here.

The kickoff dinner will take place on June 17 at the Fluno Center in Madison.