In February, President Biden delivered his annual State of the Union address, calling for bipartisan unity and emphasizing the need for Congress to work together on legislation to move America forward. Topics covered ranged from health care to economics, as the president highlighted bipartisan legislation that can unite us all.
In the speech, Biden emphasized his plan to continue to advance progress made on the Unity Agenda that he first introduced last year. The Unity Agenda is the administration’s strategy for harnessing historical bipartisan support in four policy areas: 1) combating the nation’s opioid crisis, 2) addressing the mental health crisis, 3) increasing health care access and support for U.S. veterans and 4) continuing the Cancer Moonshot initiative
Biden’s strategy to address the mental health crisis in America has the following three objectives, which are supported by the American Counseling Association’s legislative agenda.
- Create healthy environments for children and adolescents. Biden highlighted the importance of protecting and fostering the mental well-being of children and adolescents. ACA is in support of programs that make students safer at schools, improve school climate and improve access to mental and behavioral health services at school. The Student Support and Academic Enrichment Grant under Title IV-A of the Every Student Succeeds Act is a flexible block that is designed to ensure that school districts provide students with a well-rounded education, use technology to improve academic achievement and digital learning, and improve conditions for student learning.
- Expand access to mental health services via the Counseling Compact and the Mental Health Access Improvement Act. In his address, Biden stressed the need to make behavioral health care affordable and accessible to all Americans. Last year, the Counseling Compact met the 10-state minimum needed to trigger formal establishment for interstate license reciprocity. Portability expands access to mental health services and decreases shortages of providers in certain areas by allowing counselors to practice in other compact member states. The recent passage of the Mental Health Access Improvement Act is expected to close a widening treatment gap for Medicare beneficiaries by giving them access to more than 225,000 additional licensed mental health professionals. The Biden administration plans to allocate three times more resources to promote interstate license reciprocity for the delivery of mental health services across state lines.
- Strengthen system capacity by expanding the behavioral health care workforce. For the system to withstand capacity, a focus is made on recruitment, funding and researching the behavioral health workforce. In December, Congress voted to pass the 1.7 trillion-dollar fiscal year 2023 omnibus package known as H.R. 2617, the Consolidated Appropriations Act, 2023. Among the provisions included in the omnibus was the Mental Health Access Improvement Act (S. 828/H.R. 432), which will expand access to mental health services by allowing licensed professional counselors to be reimbursed by Medicare. ACA has since been working with the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services and other partners to implement rollout by Jan. 1, 2024.
ACA also continues to fight for the inclusion of counselors as mental health providers in the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs and the Commissioned Corps of the U.S. Public Health Service. This would reduce wait times for veterans seeking behavioral health services and would expand career opportunities for counselors, as intended by the administration.
Sydney Sinclair is the government affairs coordinator for the American Counseling Association. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Opinions expressed and statements made in articles appearing on CT Online should not be assumed to represent the opinions of the editors or policies of the American Counseling Association.