I have made it my mission in the Senate to improve our nation’s broken mental health system. America's mental health system has been neglected for too long and is in desperate need of reform. Too many children and adults with mental health needs in our country do not get the timely, high-quality care they need to live healthy and productive lives.
I worked for two years with conservative Republican Senator Bill Cassidy to write and pass the bipartisan Mental Health Reform Act. I held over a dozen roundtables across the state with mental health consumers and providers to make sure that Connecticut’s priorities were reflected in the bill. In 2016, the Mental Health Reform Act was signed into law by President Obama.
The Mental Health Reform Act requires insurers to drop the red tape and bureaucratic hurdles they 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 get care that is coordinated and centralized. The bill puts more resources into early intervention so that caregivers pick up the first signs of mental illness in kids and young adults and the illness never reaches a crisis stage. And the legislation reformed the federal agency that funds mental illness so that more of their money goes to truly proven interventions rather than feel-good programs with little chance of success. 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.
I have also worked closely with doctors, addiction specialists, law enforcement and families to address the opioid epidemic in Connecticut. The need for action is clear - in 2016 alone, over 1,000 people died from an overdose in Connecticut and the opioid crisis cost Connecticut over $10 billion in health care spending, addiction treatment, criminal justice, and lost productivity. As a member of the Senate HELP committee, I am working to pass the Opioid Crisis Reform Act and have fought continuously to secure emergency funding to address the crisis in our state. I’ve worked across the aisle with Senator Shelley Moore Capito of West Virginia to introduce the Recovery COACH Act, which would expand a successful Connecticut program of Recovery Coaches nationwide.
While we have made progress, it’s clear that 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 law enforcement. We also need to crack down on the drug companies and physicians who push painkillers that aren’t necessary and often lead to addiction. That’s why I'm working to reign in drug companies making huge profits off of prescription pain medications.