"Investments made now to better support children's mental health will pay off for them and our country as we avoid more serious and costly outcomes later."
WASHINGTON, DC—Earlier this week, Mark Wietecha, president of the Children's Hospital Association (CHA), the national voice of more than 200 children's hospitals nationwide, submitted a letter to the U.S. Senate Finance Committee focused on improving access to behavioral health care. CHA's letter was sent in response to the request of the Senate Finance Committee, which is soliciting input in order "to develop bipartisan legislation to address barriers to mental health care as the COVID-19 pandemic has worsened alarming trends in Americans' mental health." Additionally, Wietecha commended Chairman Ron Wyden, D-Ore., and Ranking Member Mike Crapo, R-Idaho, for their continued support in reducing barriers to mental health care.
In the letter, Wietecha states: "Prior to the pandemic, about half of children with mental health disorders did not receive care. This is not contained to one state or one community – children in states across the country face challenges getting care to address their needs. Children's mental health conditions are common. One in five children and adolescents experience a mental health disorder in a given year, 50% of all mental illness begins before age 14, and on average 11 years pass after the first symptoms appear before treatments begins. Investments made now to better support children's mental health will pay off for them and our country as we avoid more serious and costly outcomes later."
Wietecha continues: "Policymakers must act now to better support children’s mental health. Specifically, we ask that the committee include policies aligned with the Strengthening Kids' Mental Health Now proposal." The following are CHA's recommendations from that proposal:
- Increase investments to support the recruitment, training, mentorship, retention and professional development of a diverse clinical and non-clinical pediatric workforce.
- Expand pediatric mental health care infrastructure to ensure sufficient capacity to meet the needs of children in crisis who require higher intensity care, such as inpatient services, partial hospitalization or step-down programs.
- Ensure payment models and reimbursement support clinical and non-clinical pediatric mental health providers and workers and eliminate implementation barriers hindering coordinated and integrated care.
- Improve access to mental health services, including through increasing community-based care capacity, strengthening network adequacy, expanding access to telehealth services and ensuring consistent application of Early and Periodic, Screening, Diagnostic and Treatment (EPSDT) requirements.
- Address existing inequities within the pediatric mental health care system that contribute to mental health disparities in racial and ethnic minority populations and underserved communities.
To emphasize the need for policy solutions, CHA, American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) and American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatrists (AACAP), along with over 100 groups, declared a national mental health emergency and launched Sound the Alarm for Kids – a new initiative urging Congress to enact legislation to address the national mental health emergency in children and teens.