The General Assembly is underway and we need our state elected officials to help us Keep the Door Open! You can help by contacting your representatives and asking them to support the Behavioral Health Coalition’s legislative agenda. Our priorities for 2019 are:
Increase school behavioral health supports to improve student outcomes. The Kirwan Commission is exploring options to enhance public education in Maryland. The Commission is expected to offer a series of recommendations to expand school behavioral health services and supports, which have been shown to improve student health and educational outcomes. In addressing the full range of Kirwan recommendations, we must prioritize the adoption and funding of those related to school behavioral health.
Fully fund prior “Keep the Door Open” budget commitments. When the Maryland General Assembly passed the HOPE Act in 2017, it included a long-overdue, multi-year behavioral health provider rate increase. In 2018, the legislature enacted multi-year funding initiatives to expand crisis response services and improve the delivery of behavioral health care in primary care settings. We must keep these prior budget commitments in FY 2020 to ensure Marylanders have access to mental health and substance use treatment services when and where needed.
Promote medication-assisted treatment and other substance use treatment options. Medication-assisted treatment (MAT) is an evidence-based practice that combines behavioral therapy and medications to treat opioid addiction and other substance use disorders. Although this is increasingly considered the gold standard for substance use treatment, it is woefully underutilized. The legislature should ensure that Maryland laws and policies encourage and do not restrict access to all forms of MAT and other substance use treatment options. We must eliminate all restrictions to MAT, increase reimbursement for the delivery of this life-saving service, and ensure access where it is needed most, including Maryland correctional facilities.
Divert behavioral health patients from emergency rooms and general hospitals. Difficulty accessing behavioral health services in the community has forced more and more Marylanders to seek care in costlier emergency departments. Existing laws and nascent initiatives to improve access to and delivery of behavioral health care can help to mitigate the situation, but they must be properly enforced, appropriately structured and thoughtfully expanded to ensure their effectiveness. We must enforce existing mental health and substance use parity laws, incorporate behavioral health screening and referral measures into the Maryland Primary Care Program, and expand programs that target treatment and resources to the hardest-to-engage individuals.
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