WASHINGTON – A bill introduced by U.S. Senators Ben Cardin (D-Md.) and Pat Toomey (R-Pa.) to extend the duration of a demonstration program that allows individuals with chronic mental illnesses to seek the help they need without becoming stuck in the revolving door of emergency room visits, relapses, jail, homelessness, and death, is now on track to be signed into law. The just-passed S. 599, Improving Access to Emergency Psychiatric Care Act of 2015, will allow Medicaid to provide matching funds to states to reimburse the treatment of severely mentally ill individuals between the ages of 21 and 64 at psychiatric hospitals with more than 16 beds. U.S. Senator Susan Collins (R-Maine) was an original cosponsor of the legislation. Representatives John Sarbanes (D-Md.-03) and Susan Brooks (R-Ind.-05) were lead sponsors in the House.
“Too often Americans with emergency mental health needs are unable to receive the care they need due to bureaucratic red tape,” said Senator Cardin, a member of the Senate Finance Subcommittee on Health Care. “This bipartisan legislation helps ensure individuals in crisis are treated like patients, and not warehoused or — as is too often the case — ignored. By working with the states, the federal government can be a partner in saving lives as well as vital resources.”
“A psychiatric bed shortage is causing many severely mentally ill individuals to go without medical treatment, and instead, winding up in prison or on the streets. Our bipartisan, budget-neutral legislation continues an important demonstration project that helps the mentally ill access quality, life-saving care from freestanding psychiatric hospitals,” said Senator Toomey.
In 2010, Congress authorized this demonstration project to alleviate the shortage of psychiatric beds in 11 states and the District of Colombia by allowing federal Medicaid matching payments to freestanding psychiatric hospitals for emergency psychiatric cases. Despite very promising preliminary results, the demonstration is set to end on December 15, 2015. The Improving Access to Emergency Psychiatric Care Act of 2015 will build on the early success of this demonstration by extending the program through September 30, 2016, when the Secretary of Health and Human Services (HHS) will be required to submit a report to Congress with her recommendations based on the final evaluation. After the report is submitted to Congress, the Act would also allow the Secretary of HHS to extend the program for additional three years and/or expand it to include other states. At the completion of those three additional years, the project would come to a close unless Congress acts to extend it. The demonstration would be required to remain budget neutral.