December 14, 2016

By Happy Carlock


“Signed, sealed, delivered, I’m yours” is not just the chorus in President Barack Obama’s favorite song that makes you want to dance. It’s what took place Dec. 13, when President Obama signed mental health reform into law as part of H.R. 34, the 21st Century Cures Act.

Mental health reform is now ours.

The work of thousands of NAMI advocates has paid off. Congress heard NAMI’s voice through hundreds of thousands of phone calls, emails and tweets, and they answered. Now, more Americans will have access to the mental health care they need.

NAMI CEO Mary Giliberti and Director of Legislative Advocacy Andrew Sperling were at the White House for the 21st Century Cures signing ceremony. Giliberti calls this achievement a major step in the right direction for the mental health community and Congress.

“This was anything but a lame duck session,” Giliberti said. “The House and Senate vote counts showed overwhelming support for the cause that we all hold so dear.”

Even the president recognized the significance of this bill passing Congress with overwhelming bipartisan support: “I think it indicates the power of this issue and how deeply it touches every family across America. The Cures Act improves mental health care,” Obama explained. “It includes bipartisan reforms to address serious mental illness, it takes steps to ensure mental health conditions, and substance abuse are fairly treated by insurance companies. It also incorporates suicide prevention.”

How Will the Law Help People with Mental Illness?

The law includes key pieces of the Helping Families in Mental Health Crisis Act of 2016 (H.R. 2646), the Mental Health Reform Act of 2016 (S. 2680), and the Mental Health and Safe Communities Act of 2015 (S. 2002). The Cures Act will improve integration and program coordination across federal agencies that serve people with mental illness and remove unfair barriers to mental health care. It will also address the needs of people with mental illness who become entangled in the criminal justice system.

The 21st Century Cures Act also:

  • Combats suicide in our schools and communities so precious lives are saved.
  • Increases the mental health workforce, so more trained professionals can help.
  • Strengthens the enforcement of the mental health parity law, so health plans are held accountable for the coverage people paid for.
  • Invests in early intervention, so people get the right mental health care at the right time.
  • Invests resources to keep people with mental illness out of jails and in treatment.

Check out NAMI’s breakdown of the mental health provisions in H.R. 34.

What’s Next?

“We’re heartened that Congress has shown strong bipartisan support of mental health. In 2017, we hope Congress continues to work to make sure everyone gets access to mental health care,” Giliberti said.

This hard-fought battle has been won. But our work as advocates is just getting started. As the new Congress convenes in 2017, it’s up to us to hold our elected officials accountable to making mental health and substance abuse national priorities.

One in 5 Americans—and their loved ones—are counting on us.

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