Bennet, Boyle, Brown Introduce Legislation to Support Patients with Mental and Physical Health Comorbidities 

(Photo by SHVETS production)

Building on Colorado’s Experience, Legislation Promotes Innovative and Evidence-Based Collaboration Between Physical and Mental Health Providers 

Recently, Colorado U.S. Senator Michael Bennet introduced bicameral legislation along with U.S. Representatives Brendan Boyle (D-Pa.) and Shontel Brown (D-Ohio) to support the holistic health of patients with both mental and physical health conditions. The Mental and Physical Health Care Comorbidities Act would authorize the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Innovation (CMMI) to support innovative and evidence-based interventions at hospitals and in health systems that serve low-income patients to address the ways through which mental and physical health challenges interact and affect one another.

The United States healthcare system often fails to address the intersection between mental, behavioral, and physical health, as well as the social determinants of health, such as economic status and food insecurity. Many providers who serve patients with mental and physical comorbidities have developed innovative and evidence-based programs, which collaborate across health and social expertise to attain better outcomes. In Colorado, Denver Health uses a model where during a patient’s primary care visit, a provider who identifies mental health concerns can immediately connect the patient with a behavioral health professional to identify their needs and help them secure longer-term mental health care.

“Colorado is experiencing a worsening mental health crisis. Coloradans who experience both mental and physical health challenges need more support and better access to care.  My legislation builds off the experiences of Colorado medical professionals and will empower providers to work together to treat patients with physical and mental health comorbidities holistically,” said Bennet.

“I am proud to introduce this bill along with Sen. Michael Bennet and Rep. Shontel Brown,” said Congressman Boyle. “For too long mental health and physical health treatments have existed in different silos. This legislation would give hospitals and health systems serving the most vulnerable individuals the support they need in their continuing work to address mental and physical health comorbidities while also addressing social determinants of health. Supporting these evidence-based interventions will greatly improve health equity and outcomes while also addressing health care delivery challenges in low-income and medically underserved populations in my district.”

“Communities of color and other marginalized groups continue to feel the significant impact of comorbid mental and physical disease,” said Congresswoman Brown. “This summer, I secured an amendment in the House-passed NDAA that would require the Department of Defense to explore the presence of comorbidities among active service members. In the same vein, the Mental and Physical Health Comorbidities Collaborative Act, which I am proud to co-lead with Sen. Michael Bennet and Rep. Brendan Boyle, would ensure our healthcare system is equipped to treat comorbidities that affect our most vulnerable populations.”

“We applaud Senator Michael Bennet’s leadership in sponsoring the Mental and Physical Health Care Comorbidities Act that will enable hospitals like Denver Health that treat so many low-income individuals in our communities suffering from both serious mental health and medical challenges. This demonstration program is tailored to spur innovative solutions in both urban and rural areas to integrate treatment, address social issues affecting these vulnerable patients, and disseminate replicable approaches. We look forward to working with Senator Bennet and Representatives Boyle and Brown to get this vital legislation enacted,” said Donna Lynne, DrPH, CEO of Denver Health.

The Mental and Physical Health Care Comorbidities Act would work through the CMMI to help hospitals and health systems improve care and outcomes for people who face mental and physical health challenges from low-income backgrounds and dually eligible people who simultaneously qualify for Medicare and Medicaid.

Eligible and participating hospitals will be required to enter into an agreement with the Department of Health and Human Services and submit a plan to innovate and better serve uninsured, Medicaid, and dually eligible people with both mental and physical health issues.

The Mental and Physical Health Care Comorbidities Act would:

  • Address social determinants of health by encouraging the innovation of best practices and effective models that promote holistic care and treatment.
  • Integrate mental and behavioral health and social risk screenings into medical screenings, particularly for children and adolescents.
  • Assist in the identification of potential payment reforms that could more broadly effectuate improvements.
  • Make improvements in electronic health records to better integrate mental and behavioral health, social care, and physical health.

Bennet is a leading voice in Congress seeking bipartisan action on our nation’s ongoing mental and behavioral health crisis. In September 2021, Bennet released a whitepaper entitled ‘A Bold Vision for America’s Mental Well-being’ with Senator John Cornyn (R-Texas) to build bipartisan consensus on redesigning our nation’s mental health care system and reevaluating federal funding toward this effort.

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