WASHINGTON – U.S. Senator Bill Cassidy, M.D. (R-LA), ranking member of the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions (HELP) Committee, delivered remarks during today’s hearing on the youth mental health crisis.
Click here to watch the hearing live.
Cassidy’s speech as prepared for delivery can be found below:
Thank you, Chair Sanders
Every American knows someone struggling with mental health.
School closures and isolation from the COVID-19 pandemic exacerbated this crisis among our children.
According to the CDC, from 2021 to 2022, the percent of teenagers who reported feeling sad or hopeless increased from 36.7% to 42.3%. Those seriously considering suicide increased from 18.8% to 22.2%.
Talk about troubling.
The goal of this hearing is to explore ways to improve access to quality mental health care for children.
I would be remiss if I did not highlight that Congress has taken significant action in recent years to improve mental health care and access for our children and for all Americans. We have trod this ground. We need to see our recent work through to measure its effectiveness. Then we can assess any gaps that remain.
For decades, the nation’s mental health system was dysfunctional, under-resourced, and unable to get crucial services to Americans facing mental health issues, especially those in underserved areas. I worked in a hospital for the working uninsured and the uninsured for 25 years. I saw this firsthand.
That is why in 2015, Senator Chris Murphy and I led the Mental Health Reform Act, an historic bill that overhauled our mental health system to increase access to quality mental health care for all Americans. We teamed up again last year to reauthorize the funding for the groundbreaking legislation and reform it to better address the needs of Americans.
We increased funding for the Mental Health Block Grant to better serve children at risk for serious mental illness, expanded tele-mental health care and promoted the integration of mental health providers into primary care, increased mental health workforce programs which focus on treating children and underserved populations; I could go on.
Additionally, in response to the tragedy in Uvalde, Congress passed the Bipartisan Safer Communities Act (BSCA), which invested billions of dollars so every child and every American has access to mental health care, no matter whether they are in a pediatrician’s office, their school, an emergency room, or a community health center. Notably, the legislation invested $8.6 billion to expand Certified Community Behavioral Health Clinics to all 50 states, offering 24-7 crisis intervention services, outpatient mental health and substance abuse services, case management services, and to increase access to primary care for Americans, especially those who are low-income and uninsured. It also provided $2 billion for school-based mental health treatment, to train school personnel to better help students through a crisis, increase care for children suffering from trauma, fund prevention programs to decrease bullying and violence at schools, and much more.
Additionally, the Safer Communities Act instructed the Department of Education and the Department of Health and Human Services to improve guidance to schools, particularly those located in small and/or rural communities, to more easily bill Medicaid for school-based mental health services. We will hear more about that during the first panel.
I am proud of the work that Senator Murphy and all of my colleagues put in to get these pieces of legislation signed into law.
These achievements show there is strong bipartisan support for addressing our youth mental health crisis.
However, these grants and programs only make a difference if state and local governments are aware of them and apply to participate.
We need local leadership to use these resources and to make sure this assistance reaches those who need it most.
Pretending that Congress has not done anything to address youth mental health and that we must start anew ignores our responsibility to make sure the support we have already approved is being used effectively.
By the way, the Chair has made the point, with which I agree wholeheartedly, that the resources Congress appropriates should not be wasted.
Congress cannot solve this problem on its own. And throwing more money at the issue without accountability for how it's used is not the solution.
There has to be complete buy-in from the Administration, states, local governments, tribal leaders, and community organizations, among others, to make sure these programs work as Congress intended and reach our most vulnerable populations.
There is, however, existing legislation up for reauthorization that requires attention.
As I mentioned in last week’s hearing, this Committee has 9 health care reauthorizations waiting before this committee that will expire in September.
One of these is the SUPPORT Act, which helps individuals dealing with substance use disorder and increases support services for children suffering from trauma. There are more than 50 individual provisions in the SUPPORT Act that fall in this Committee’s jurisdiction.
The fact that the Committee has two months left to reauthorize these programs and we still have not formally considered bipartisan text let alone marked any up is deeply concerning.
I reiterate that reauthorizing the SUPPORT Act and the 8 other health-related bills on time and in a bipartisan manner must be this Committee’s top priority.
As ranking member of this Committee, improving our federal programs so they are more effective and have greater reach is crucial.
I look forward to hearing from our witnesses as to how we can better address the mental health crisis to make sure that more young people have access to quality mental health care and how the resources already allocated can be used more effectively.