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Loebsack works to increase mental health services, reduce stigma

The Hawk Eye - 5/12/2017

May 12--U.S. Rep. Dave Loebsack introduced two bills this week aimed at expanding mental health care services for Iowans and diminishing the stigma surrounding mental illness.

Loebsack, a Democrat representing the 2nd Congressional District in southeast Iowa, has often spoke about his mother who struggled with mental illness and how her experience shaped his work as a congressman.

"I, like so many others, have personally felt the effects of mental illness in my family, having grown up with a mother who struggled with mental illness. And for far too long, for far too any people, mental health issues have been left in the shadows," Loebsack said in a statement Monday.

The Children's Access to Mental Health Services Act would expand the ability of pediatric primary care providers to deliver family-centered behavioral healthcare through expedited funding. The bill would provide an enhanced Federal Medical Assistance Percentage for administrative costs for state and regional Child Behavioral Health Access Programs.

Loebsack met with healthcare officials at West Burlington'sGreat River Medical Center last August to discuss the bill, first introduced in the House of Representatives in June 2016.

"This is very basic, just enhance FMAP funding, that's what it is," Loebsack said at the meeting last year. "Not any more funding, but it will accelerate it and get it out sooner over a five-year period than would normally be the case. And that's so there would be money freed up so folks can hire more (healthcare) providers. That's essentially what it is."

According to the National Institute of Mental Health, about 20 percent of children between 13 and 18 years old currently suffer from a "debilitating mental disorder" or will battle mental illness at some point in their life.

A wider net of more than 46 percent of young people will experience chronic mental illness throughout their lifetime, according to their analysis.

"If we want to really make a difference in the overall health and wellbeing of Iowans, we need to recognize that the brain is part of the body and should be treated as such," Loebsack said.

The congressman's second bill introduced this week, the Behavioral Health Care Integration Act, would work to improve access to mental health services by implementing competitive grants for "merged practices" that offer mental health services and primary care within the same shared space in the facility.

Iowa ranks behind all 50 states in the number of state psychiatric beds per capita, according to a July 2016 report by the national Treatment Advocacy Center.

Lack of mental health care access in Iowa was made worse in July 2015 with the closure of state-run Mental Health Institutes in Mount Pleasant and Clarinda, leaving only two publicly funded MHIs left in operation.

In 2016, Iowa had 64 state hospital beds, down from 149 in 2010. Only two beds are available per 100,000 residents.

Today Loebsack will visit Community Health Centers of Southeast Iowa in West Burlington in recognition of May as Mental Health Month and his "Breaking the Stigma Tour."

A statement released Thursday said the congressman would visit healthcare facilities throughout his district "to discuss how to better provide treatment to those suffering with mental health issues."

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(c)2017 The Hawk Eye (Burlington, Iowa)

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