On June 23, the Senate voted 65-33 to approve the Bipartisan Safer Communities Act, legislation to reduce gun violence and invest in mental health. This package is the result of collaboration among 10 Republican and 10 Democratic senators, led by Sens. Chris Murphy (D-Conn.) and John Cornyn (R-Texas), who previously released a framework to guide their discussions [refer to Washington Highlights, June 17].
AAMC President and CEO David J. Skorton issued a June 22 statement commending the bipartisan lawmakers who negotiated to help reduce gun violence and promote the well-being of children. “Gun violence is a public health crisis that has plagued our nation for too long. We applaud this bipartisan group of senators for coming together to advance meaningful commonsense policies that will take an important step forward in addressing this epidemic,” said Skorton.
The legislation would provide funding to support states in implementing state crisis intervention orders, laws to prevent individuals deemed at risk to themselves or others from having a weapon. The legislation also would enhance background checks by requiring additional scrutiny of individuals under the age of 21 seeking to purchase a weapon, including a mandatory investigative period to review juvenile and mental health records. In addition, the legislation would protect individuals who have experienced intimate partner violence by closing the “boyfriend loophole” by requiring that convicted abusers in dating relationships be included in the National Instant Criminal Background Check System.
Negotiators also included in the package a number of investments and policies intended to expand access to mental and behavioral health care for children and families through investments in community-based mental health clinics, telehealth, and school-based mental health services. It would also significantly expand the Certified Community Behavioral Health Clinic demonstration program by allowing up to 10 states to opt into the model every two years. In addition, the legislation aims to increase access to telehealth-enabled mental health services for children and young people by requiring the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) to assist states in expanding access to those services for Medicaid and Child Health Insurance Program enrollees. The legislation would direct the CMS to issue guidance to state Medicaid agencies on how to finance school-based mental health services under Medicaid, as well as authorize $50 million in planning grants for states to put this guidance into practice.
The legislation also proposes to integrate physical and behavioral health services for children and young people through investments in existing Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA) programs. The legislation would invest in HRSA Title VII programs, including $60 million over five years to support the Primary Care Training and Enhancement program, which provides training for the detection and treatment of mental health conditions in children. It would reauthorize the Pediatric Mental Health Care Access program, a HRSA program that cultivates state or regional pediatric mental health care teams through teleconsultation between primary care providers and behavioral health specialists. The bill also would appropriate $80 million over four years to support the work of this program.
Additionally, the package would provide $250 million in fiscal years 2022-2026 through the Department of Justice for community violence intervention and prevention programming. The AAMC had previously led more than 30 national health care, medical, and public health organizations in urging lawmakers to support hospital-based violence prevention programs and other community violence interventions as part of a comprehensive strategy to address gun violence [refer to Washington Highlights, July 1, 2021].
The legislation will now proceed to the House for consideration.