President Obama signed the 21st Century Cures Act on Tuesday, which authorizes $1 billion over two years to supplement existing grant programs for addiction treatment and prevention, prescription drug monitoring programs and workforce development. It also includes the final version of the Helping Families in Mental Health Crisis Act, which was introduced in response to the Sandy Hook tragedy on Dec. 14, 2012, when a gunman entered a school and shot 20 children and six adults.
The bipartisan effort reflects a number of White House healthcare priorities.
“It is wonderful to see how well Democrats and Republicans in the closing days of this Congress came together around a common cause,” Obama said at the bill’s signing ceremony. “It indicates the power of this issue and how deeply it touches every family across America."
For behavioral health professionals, the key provisions for addiction and mental health have promise.
"The National Council applauds passage of the Cures Act,” says Linda Rosenberg, president and CEO of the National Council for Behavioral Health. “We congratulate Congress and the White House for significantly funding the fight against opioid addictions. We're also pleased to see an array of important mental health and criminal justice grants, and we'll work to ensure appropriations are made.”
Rosenberg says the group is disappointed that behavioral health is still treated differently than other health conditions, however.
“Grants don't create and sustain evidence-based treatment capacity,” she says. “If you need chemotherapy or a stent, you aren't dependent upon your provider having a grant, and you expect the people that treat you to have the needed skills. The time has come for people affected by addictions and mental illnesses to get equal treatment.”
It’s worth noting that Cures includes points from The Anna Westin Act of 2015, the first piece of legislation to address eating disorders specifically. It provides SAMHSA grants to update education and training to address eating disorders, while also requiring the National Institute of Mental Health to create public service announcements about eating disorders. Parity law is also updated to clarify that residential treatment for eating disorders should be covered equitably by insurance plans.
Other lesser known Cures provisions call for data reports on: the costs of imprisoning inmates with serious mental illness; the role of mental illness in law enforcement homicides; and the number of forensic hospital beds currently available in all states. The bed count will help to quantify the dearth of community treatment options—an issue many advocates want to see resolved.
Overall, the Cures Act might best be known for its rules to speed up pharmaceutical approvals and its $4.8 billion investment in big-picture research for the BRAIN Initiative, the Precision Medicine Initiative and Vice President Joe Biden’s Cancer Moonshot.
A House fact sheet on the Cures Act is here.