Emmer legislation targets coordinated federal support to address mental health crisis

To help the millions of Americans struggling with mental health and substance abuse challenges during the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, U.S. Rep. Tom Emmer (R-MN) on Feb. 25 introduced a bipartisan bill addressing the need for coordinated, evidence-based behavioral healthcare programs at the federal level.

“Our nation is in the midst of a mental health crisis, and the federal government needs strong coordination to successfully ensure treatment for those in need,” Rep. Emmer said. “Without a unified approach, we will continue to let Americans who desperately need mental health care fall through the cracks.” 

Rep. Emmer cosponsored the Behavioral Health Coordination and Communication Act of 2021, H.R. 1385, with bill sponsor U.S. Rep. David Trone (D-MD), which would establish the position of Interagency Coordinator for Behavioral Health to coordinate the programs and activities of the federal government related to mental health, according to the text of the bill. 

“Interagency coordination will help reduce duplicative efforts and improve government efficiency in response to this crisis,” said Rep. Emmer. “Access to mental healthcare services should be a top priority for our federal government.”

If enacted, H.R. 1385 would task the newly created Interagency Coordinator for Behavioral Health with making an inventory of “currently disjointed federal programming” and to develop a strategy for coordination across agencies to streamline the federal government’s approach to mental health and substance use disorders (SUD), according to a one-page summary of the bill.

Additionally, the interagency coordinator would be required to identify best practices for comprehensive mental health and SUD care, and to produce public reports and recommendations for improving gaps in the mental health and SUD workforce, mental health and SUD services, service reimbursement in schools, and expenditures for services for justice involved youths, the summary says.

Under the bill, a publicly available knowledge center on mental health and SUD also would be established and would include insurance information, tools and other public education efforts, according to the summary.