I have made it my mission in the Senate to improve our nation’s broken mental health system. Too many children and adults in our country do not get the timely, high-quality care they need to live healthy and productive lives.
I worked with Republican Senator Bill Cassidy to pass legislation in 2020 that gave federal and state insurance regulators with new tools to monitor and assure compliance with mental health parity laws. This already is resulting in additional oversight and actions to expand private health insurance coverage for mental health and substance use disorder.
I also worked for two years with Senator Cassidy to write and pass the bipartisan Mental Health Reform Act. I held over a dozen roundtables across the state with mental health advocates and providers to ensure that Connecticut’s priorities were reflected in the bill. In 2016, President Obama signed the Mental Health Reform Act into law.
The law requires insurers to drop the red tape and bureaucratic hurdles put in front of families who want to access their mental health benefits. It promotes integration of the physical and primary health systems with the behavioral health system, so that families can access coordinated, integrated care. It also funds more resources to support early identification of the first signs of mental illness in kids and young adults to promote early interventions. And the legislation reformed the federal agency that funds mental illness so that more of their money is targeted toward evidence-based programs that will have the strongest impact.
While the passage of our bill was a big step forward, there is more work to be done to ensure that it is implemented correctly and can make a difference for people struggling with mental illness. The COVID-19 pandemic has had a devastating impact on our nation’s mental health, particularly among our children. As we work to update and reauthorize the Mental Health Reform Act, these concerns are top of mind.
I have also worked closely with clinicians, addiction specialists, law enforcement and families to address the opioid epidemic in Connecticut. The need for action is clear - in 2021 alone, more than 1,300 people died from an opioid overdose in Connecticut. As a member of the Senate’s key Health and Appropriations committees, I shaped the opioid relief package that was signed into law in 2018 and have fought vigorously to secure emergency funding to address the crisis in our state. I worked across the aisle with Senator Shelley Moore Capito of West Virginia to include the Recovery COACH Act in the SUPPORT for Patients and Communities Act, which was signed into law in 2018. Thanks to the American Rescue Plan, Connecticut has received nearly $15 million to fund substance use disorder block grant programs.
While we have made progress, we have a long way to go to fully address this epidemic. We need more money for crisis intervention, long-term treatment, medication therapy, and community interventions.