Five Major Health Policy Successes of 2011

by Rebecca Farley on January 5, 2012

Despite what seemed like constant threats to Medicaid and behavioral health funding over the last year, our field was able to fend off the worst cuts – and make strong progress on our other legislative goals. Here’s what your advocacy helped achieve in 2011:

1. Supercommittee Cuts to Medicaid did not Materialize: 2011 brought one after another legislative proposal to revamp Medicaid and cut hundreds of billions of dollars from the program. From bills that would convert Medicaid to a block grant, to a “blended” FMAP proposal, Medicaid was constantly on the chopping block. Nowhere was this more true than in the Supercommittee negotiations, which – had they succeeded – could have had a devastating impact on Medicaid. However, the Supercommittee was unable to reach a spending cut agreement, leaving Medicaid spared for now. The National Council would like to thank the 1,700 individuals and organizations who signed on to our Supercommittee letter in support of Medicaid, along with the thousands of advocates who sent letters to your legislators last year urging them to preserve and protect Medicaid. Your efforts made a difference! 

2. Funding Increases for the Block Grants: The final 2012 budget agreement saw a $41 million increase for the Mental Health Block Grant (MHBG) and a $21 million increase for the Substance Abuse Prevention and Treatment Block Grant (SAPTBG). This represents the first time in over 10 years that the MHBG has received a funding increase, and fulfills one of the National Council’s principal goals from Hill Days 2010 and 2011! We would like to extend our gratitude to the hundreds of advocates who came to Hill Day over the last two years to push for an increase in block grant funding. Together, we’ll continue to fight for behavioral health funding in 2012 and beyond.

3. Proposed $200 Million in SAMHSA Cuts were Averted: A budget proposal by Representative Denny Rehberg (R-MT), Chair of the Appropriations Subcommittee for Labor-HHS-Education, issued a proposal for the 2012 SAMHSA budget that would have stripped over $200 million from the agency. As the House and Senate headed into budget negotiations at the end of 2011, there was great fear that the Rehberg proposal – or something close to it – would survive the negotiations and become law. However, the final deal averted these drastic cuts to SAMHSA and only reduced the agency’s funding by about $27 million. The National Council and our members pushed hard to preserve SAMHSA funding in the 2012 budget, and we are pleased that in this year of draconian budget cuts, SAMHSA was spared the worst.

4. Behavioral Health IT Act Reintroduced: When Congress adjourned in 2010 without passing legislation to extend federal payments for health IT to behavioral health providers and facilities, the National Council immediately began working to secure the reintroduction of the bill in 2011. With the help of hundreds of our members who sent nearly 2,000 emails to the Senate, the Behavioral Health IT Act of 2011 (S. 539) was reintroduced in March by Senator Sheldon Whitehouse of Rhode Island. By the end of the year, thanks to ongoing advocacy at Hill Day and beyond, 14 Senators had joined him in cosponsoring the legislation. The National Council is now working with key Representatives on the reintroduction of a House version of the bill.

5. Hill Day was a Major Success: In 2011, as for the past several years, more behavioral health advocates came to Hill Day than ever before! Nearly 500 behavioral health providers, administrators, board members, consumers, and community stakeholders come to Washington at the height of summer for a full day of sessions and workshops on federal mental health and addictions policy, followed by visits with their elected officials on Capitol Hill to advocate for our field’s priorities. Attendees raised awareness about behavioral health on the Hill, enlisted new cosponsors for behavioral health IT legislation, built congressional support for preserving Medicaid and behavioral health funding, and much more. Thank you for your hard work and advocacy, and we look forward to seeing you at Hill Day 2012!

 

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