RADIO ADDRESS: Access to mental health care makes it possible for more Mainers to participate in our communities and economy

Posted: February 26, 2018 | Front Page, Senator Breen, Weekly Radio Address

If we want all Mainers to actively participate in our communities and contribute to our economy, we need to make sure they can get the health care they need, especially mental health care.

Access to quality, affordable health care makes it possible for individuals with significant mental health needs to live in their homes, work in our communities and to get on with their lives.

Hi, this is Senator Cathy Breen of Falmouth. Thank you for tuning in.

For far too many Mainers, mental health care is simply out of reach. Stigma, fear, waiting lists, long-distance travel to providers, and lack of health insurance are obstacles that block the road to mental well-being. Combined, these barriers too often leave children, families, and individuals without critical mental health care, and we all lose.

The truth is there has never been a better time in human history to have a mental illness than today. Research on the brain is progressing at rapid speeds. And we now know that mental illness is simply a brain disorder. Much like disorders of other organs such as the heart, kidneys or lungs, early detection and early treatment results in better brain health and better quality of life.

Like other chronic illnesses, proper medications and monitoring are essential to effective treatment of mental illness and substance use disorder. Medication management provides this critical piece of a treatment plan, but we are running out of providers of this important piece of the puzzle. Because the state’s reimbursement rate for this service has been stagnant for a decade, far too many Mainers lack access to the essential medicines they need.

Inadequate reimbursement rates make it difficult to hire and retain mental health professionals to do this important work in Maine. According to Kaiser Family Foundation, Maine only has enough psychiatrists to serve about one-third of people. This lack of mental health professionals translates to longer waiting lists and farther distances for clients to travel, sometimes just too long.

Maine Behavioral Health and Kennebec Behavioral Health report having up to 1,200 and 500 people each who are waiting for care. The lack of access to treatment results in more emergency room visits, more hospital stays, and more jailing of people with mental illness and substance use disorders. This result is both fiscally irresponsible and morally unacceptable. Folks who need medicine for their hearts, kidneys or lungs don’t endure such hardship – why should someone who needs medicine for his brain?

I recently introduced a bill to address this shortage. My bill would increase the state’s reimbursement rate for professionals who prescribe medication for people living with mental illness and substance use disorders.  This modest increase in the reimbursement rate would make a big difference to providers offering this service, sometimes even allowing them to keep their doors open.

We need to increase reimbursement rates so mental health care providers can afford to provide care to individuals through MaineCare. My bill would begin to address this very real crisis, and ultimately save people’s lives, taxpayers’ money and provide the basics of quality care.

I am pleased to report that just this week, my colleagues on the Health and Human Services Committee unanimously supported an amended version of my bill. Now this legislation will move to the Senate and House for an initial vote. I am hopeful lawmakers in both chambers and in both parties will join me on this important issue and in the fight to increase access to mental health care.

This is Senator Cathy Breen, thank you for listening.