Washington – Gun safety legislation passed Thursday night by the US Senate would expand eligibility for a mental health program drafted by Michigan Sen. Debbie Stabenow to all states.
The vote was 65 to 33, with 15 Republican senators voting with Democrats in favor of the package, which has been hailed as the most significant gun legislation in 30 years. The House is expected to consider the legislation as early as Friday.
Stabenow’s measure, co-authored by Sen. Roy Blunt, a Republican from Missouri, reimburses states through Medicaid for mental health and addictions services provided at federally qualified community health clinics that must offer 24-hour crisis, among other things.
“We know that more than half of all gun deaths are suicides and people with mental illness are more likely to be victims of violence than to commit it,” Stabenow said in a statement after the vote. .
“This bill builds on my Transformational Behavioral Health Care initiative to bring high-quality mental health and addictions services to communities across the country to give people the care they need. needed in the health care system.
The program began in 2016 with eight states funded, and two more were added in 2020, including Michigan. Those states will get an additional four years of participation in the program under legislation passed Thursday, according to Stabenow’s office. The bill also provides $40 million in planning grants for states new to the program.
More than 435 clinics are now part of the program across the country, including individual clinics who can apply to join, Stabenow said this week. Anyone can go to one of the certified community behavioral health clinics for care, whether or not they have insurance.
“Everyone always says, well, a big part of the problem (of gun violence) here is that the mental health system isn’t working,” Blunt told reporters this week.
“And so we were able to come back and say, listen, we have examples from 10 states and 30 others where not only does it work, but they know it works. Let’s go ahead and expand.”
The Stabenow-Blunt measure is part of a larger Senate package negotiated following the mass shootings in Uvalde, Texas; Buffalo, New York; and the Nov. 30 shooting at Oxford High School in Oakland County that left four students dead.
The bill includes funding for anti-violence efforts, mental health centers in schools and support for suicide hotlines.
It would also strengthen background checks on gun buyers under the age of 21 and make it easier to seize firearms from people threatening to commit suicide or kill others in states that adopt such initiatives, as well as people who have committed domestic violence.
The bill also cracks down on gun trafficking, expands who must register as a federal gun dealer; including so-called “straw purchases” when someone buys a gun for someone else.
“I’m on the side that says it’s not enough” to address gun violence, Stabenow said Thursday on MSNBC. “But I believe that’s the step we can take now. From the mental health side, it’s a huge step.”
Stabenow introduced the Excellence in Mental Health Act with Blunt in 2013. The impetus was a desire to change the funding model for community mental health and addictions treatment so that it is not limited to grants that “ start and stop”, but within the framework of the health care system.
The program has created federal criteria for participating clinics to meet high quality standards and provide services, including 24-hour crisis psychiatric care, outpatient services, immediate screenings, risk assessments and support. integrated to treat drug addiction.
The model aims to keep those who need treatment out of prisons and hospitals, and off the streets, in an effort to reduce the cost and burden on prisons, police and emergency rooms.
Stabenow highlighted data from the US Department of Health and Human Services showing that those who receive services from the Certified Community Behavioral Health Clinics program for six months or more had a 63% reduction in emergency room visits for problems. behavioral health, a 60% decrease in time spent in jail, and a 41% decrease in homelessness among clients.
The Congressional Budget Office said it would cost more than $8 billion to expand the program to all states.