On Thursday, April 15 the House Subcommittee on Health, Employment, Labor, and Pensions Subcommittee during a hearing titled Meeting the Moment: Improving Access to Behavioral and Mental Health Care interviewed Dr. Christine Yu Moutier, Chief Medical Officer for the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention (AFSP). Her testimony included the following:
“Research shows that when primary care and health systems embrace mental health and substance use disorders as integral targets of healthcare delivery, many health outcomes improve. There are enormous economic benefits for societies that prioritize mental health and there is a proven return on investment for each dollar spent on mental health promotion and prevention – in many ways, we cannot afford inaction.
During the COVID-19 pandemic, data show 50-70% of the population report elevations in experiences of depression, anxiety, trauma, loss, and increased substance use. Suicidal thoughts are also much more prevalent during this time especially among young people with 25% of young adults reporting suicidal ideation. As the pandemic has progressed, the proportion of respondents with detrimental effects on their mental health continued to rise. There are reasons to be especially concerned about particular populations: minoritized communities, essential and frontline health workers, caregivers, youth, rural residents and LGBTQ people.
Despite the evident need for broad and equitable access to mental health care, many are having trouble accessing care. These challenges have worsened during the pandemic, despite greater access via telehealth services. The Subcommittee is asked to consider efforts that would support enhanced mental health parity enforcement, to ensure that coverage for mental health care is no less restrictive than medical or surgical care. Recent analyses found evidence of lack of parity in behavioral health services compared with medical/surgical in terms of high out of network use and lower reimbursement for behavioral health services – and these disparities are trending in the wrong direction.
There must be much more accountability and oversight of parity to ensure that mental health conditions are not being discriminated against. In closing, I urge the subcommittee to consider legislation and policies to: ensure effective enforcement of mental health parity and broaden access to mental health care generally; support a robust, diverse mental health workforce; integrate mental health and suicide prevention in health systems, workplaces and schools, as critical touchpoints that can establish a culture that is responsive to mental health needs.
The steps we take in the aftermath of the pandemic will set the trajectory for the Nation’s mental health for years to come. Parity must be enforced, and disparities must be addressed to ensure equitable access and care for those in need.”