Daines announces bills to expand mental health care workforce

Source: Bozeman Daily Chronicle

A Montana senator has proposed five new bipartisan bills aimed at expanding the mental health workforce in the country.

Republican Sen. Steve Daines announced Thursday that he and Sen. Debbie Stabenow, a Democrat from Michigan, introduced a slate of bills meant to expand the mental health services workforce in the hopes of expanding access to mental health care.

Daines said in a release that the bills would “empower and expand” the mental health care workforce, which would grow access for people seeking out those services.

“Access to mental health services is critical for our rural communities and veterans — especially in states like Montana where suicide is sadly taking too many lives,” Daines said.

The slate of bills includes the Protect Our Physicians Act, the Expand Qualified Psychologist Services Act, the Training Psychiatrists for the Future Act, the Expand the Behavioral Health Workforce Now Act and the More Behavioral Health Providers Act.

Two of the bills, the Protect Our Physicians Act and the Expand Qualified Psychologist Services Act, do not directly intend to expand the mental health care workforce.

The former piece of legislation’s focus is on increasing access to mental health programs for physicians “for the primary purpose of preventing suicide and improving mental health and resiliency,” according to the legislation.

The latter aims to broaden access to mental health care by providing Medicare coverage for psychologist services.

The remaining three proposed bills home in on growing the mental health care workforce.

The Training Psychiatrists for the Future Act intends to bolster the amount of residency positions in hospitals that specialize in psychiatry. The Graduate Medical Education program under Medicare would fund the expansion of those positions, according to Daines’ office.

Under that bill, hospitals would submit applications to increase their residency limits in places with provider shortages, like rural and underserved communities, would be given priority.

Additionally, the bill would add 400 new residency positions annually.

The Expand the Behavioral Workforce Now Act would require the secretary of health and human services to issue guidance and strategies to states on how to use Medicaid and the Children’s Health Insurance Program to grow the mental healthcare workforce.

For example, the guidance would illustrate strategies to “increase education, training, recruitment, and retention,” of mental health care providers, according to the proposed legislation.

The final proposed bill, the More Behavioral Health Providers Act, intends to increase Medicare payments to mental health care and substance abuse providers in rural or underserved areas.

The boost in payment would be between 10% and 15% extra on top of the original billed service, and would be paid from the Federal Supplementary Medical Insurance Trust Fund, according to the bill.