On April 5, Secretary of Health and Human Services (HHS) Xavier Becerra testified before the Senate Finance Committee on the department’s fiscal year (FY) 2023 budget request, highlighting key investments in mental and behavioral health services. The hearing follows Becerra’s testimony before the House Appropriations Labor, Health and Human Services, Education, and Related Agencies Subcommittee [refer to Washington Highlights, April 1].
In his Senate testimony, Becerra outlined key investments in the FY 2023 budget designed to bolster the nation’s mental health infrastructure, expand access to mental health services and substance use disorder treatment, enforce mental health parity laws, and strengthen and diversify the behavioral health workforce. “The President has outlined a bold strategy for tackling the nation’s mental health crisis, calling for an increased focus on building system capacity, connecting more people to care, and creating a continuum of support to keep people healthy and help Americans thrive,” he stated.
Both committee Chair Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) and Ranking Member Mike Crapo (R-Idaho) expressed their appreciation for the budget’s emphasis on mental and behavioral health. In his opening statement, Wyden reflected upon the committee’s ongoing work to develop bipartisan legislative solutions to the mental health crisis, including the release of a report summarizing stakeholder feedback to the committee’s September request for information [refer to Washington Highlights, April 1]. “These proposals from the budget could open doors to treatment for a lot of people who are struggling to connect with mental health providers today, or people who could face a crisis in the future,” he stated. Crapo echoed this sentiment, noting that “[t]he budget proposal’s focus on mental health also offers potential for common ground.”
Wyden referenced testimony the committee received last week that described strategies some insurance companies employ to evade mental health parity laws, including their use of “ghost networks,” in his questions to Becerra [refer to Washington Highlights, April 1]. Becerra described several provisions in the budget intended to enhance existing mental health parity laws, including funding to support states’ enforcement efforts. “We're going to try to support states that are trying to move towards those parity laws in ways that are meaningful, so that you have true services that you can access as a family member,” Becerra stated.
When Crapo inquired about the anticipated timeline for the termination of the COVID-19 public health emergency, currently set to expire on April 16, Becerra underscored the continued uncertainty surrounding the pandemic but reemphasized his department’s commitment to providing at least 60 days’ notice prior to its termination.
Becerra also highlighted the need for Congress to provide the department with additional emergency COVID-19 funding for therapeutics, medicines, and vaccines [refer to related story]. The Senate is expected to reconsider this supplemental funding request following