U.S. Senator Debbie Stabenow announced what the Michigan Democrat called a bipartisan bill Thursday that would expand a program that provides federal funding to clinics for mental health and addiction treatment services.
The Excellence in Mental Health and Addiction Treatment Expansion Act would expand the original bill introduced in 2014.
"Our goal was to have a system where mental health and addiction services are treated from a funding standpoint as comprehensive healthcare, treating healthcare above the neck, as well as healthcare below the neck," she said at an event in Washington, D.C., Thursday.
The original bill established a pilot program that provided a competitive process for funding for eight states, according to a press released distributed by Stabenow's office Thursday.
Republican Senator Roy Blunt of Missouri co-sponsored the bill expansion.
"I do think in the six years we've been actively talking about this in the Senate and around our states and around the country that the discussion about behavioral health has changed a lot, and that's one of our principle goals, frankly, to just get to where you think of behavioral health like all other health," Blunt said.
The new bill would extend the program by two additional years and increase the number of eligible states from eight to 19.
"We are confident that if we can extend the current eight states for two more years and add additional states, that they will be able to demonstrate to their governors and local communities that this not only works and it's right for people, but it saves dollars by integrating healthcare and mental health," Stabenow said.
Blunt said the program was not an effort by the federal government to take over behavioral health.
"What we're trying to show here is that when you deal with people's mental health challenge like you would any other health challenge, their other health issues are so much more easily dealt with that it's not only the right thing to do, but it's actually the smart thing to do, the financially cost effective thing to do," he said.
Both senators said the purpose of the program was to help people in need, but also to collect data on the effectiveness of care. They said the information would be used to prove to states why funding would be necessary, and convince states to invest their own money for mental health and addiction treatment services.
Stabenow and Blunt said they tried passing this same bill in the last Congress, but couldn't get to it.