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Panel Puts Out Call to Action on Behavioral Health for New Administration

February 01, 2021

On January 28, the College for Behavioral Health Leadership (CBHL) held an important leadership conversation on Behavioral Health and the New Administration: A Call to Action. The purpose was to highlight current major needs of the behavioral health field and to identify potential roles that the new Biden-Harris administration could play in helping to address these needs. I had the honor of serving as the moderator for this conversation. 

The dual context for this conversation is unusual: COVID-19 and a new federal administration. COVID-19 has not only been a major medical tragedy, it also has resulted in a major behavioral health tragedy. We now are in the midst of a behavioral health pandemic within a medical one. Indicators suggest that as many as twice the number of Americans have behavioral health issues today compared with pre-pandemic levels.

By contrast, the Biden-Harris administration already has proposed the American Rescue Plan to address coronavirus. This plan includes $20 billion in new SAMHSA and HRSA funds to improve behavioral healthcare; $350 billion for states, counties, and cities to strengthen service structures and schools; a federal tax credit for health insurance copays and deductibles; a special enrollment period for the ACA health insurance marketplaces; and more than 100,000 new public health workers. Obviously, each of these elements has salutary implications for the future of behavioral healthcare.

The panel for the leadership conversation included Benjamin Miller, chief strategy officer, Well Being Trust; Pamela Greenberg, president and CEO, Association for Behavioral Health and Wellness; Kana Enomoto, senior knowledge expert, McKinsey and Co.; Harvey Rosenthal, CEO, New York Association of Psychiatric Rehabilitation Services.

Together, this panel encompassed the perspectives of philanthropy, managed care, private care, analytics, persons with lived experience, public services, and thought leadership.

Many topics were introduced. Key themes included the importance of community engagement to address local social determinants; the need for continued regulatory reform, such as permanent coverage of virtual care and full implementation of parity; improved services, including integrated care and crisis response services; full support and engagement of peers; and major workforce reforms. Reducing racial disparities, broadening insurance coverage, and improving well-being were identified as cross-cutting issues. The panel was followed by a short discussion period that amplified some of these themes with poignant field examples.

The leadership conversation can be viewed in full on

CBHL is to be commended for undertaking this essential work. It is of exceptional importance that the field build consensus on key next steps and needs at this unusual time of new beginnings. It also is equally important that these next steps and needs be communicated clearly to the new federal leaders in SAMHSA, HRSA, CMS, ONDCP, CDC, and other agencies related to the behavioral health agenda. Clearly, a window of opportunity exists that must not be missed.

Equally important is the desire to present a consensus-based agenda to the new administration. It is exceptionally clear that the behavioral health field fares much better when presenting mutually agreed upon recommendations. CBHL has done an excellent job in bringing together the various perspectives in our field. Let us use those perspectives to design a field-wide agenda.

CBHL plans follow-up with additional meetings and further leadership conversations on this important topic.

Ron Manderscheid, PhD, is president and CEO of NACBHDD and NARMH.

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