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Source: United States House of Representatives – Representative Antonio Delgado (NY-19)

WASHINGTON, DC – As Congressional leaders continue to negotiate the next set of COVID-19 relief packages, U.S. Representative Antonio Delgado (NY-19) joined a bipartisan group of 59 Members of Congress in urging Congressional leadership to prioritize mental health, substance use disorder treatment, and medical research funding in future COVID-19 packages.

The stress and disruption to care caused by the COVID-19 pandemic is worsening an already dire mental health and addiction crisis. The National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) anticipates 10-15% of the population will experience long-term health impacts from COVID-19, and statistics released last month from the Center for Disease Control show a dramatic increase in overdose deaths in 2019, before the COVID-19 pandemic even started. 

“Last week, when I met with my Health Care Advisory Committee, we discussed both the physical and mental strain of this pandemic on our communities and livelihoods,” said Rep. Delgado. “As leaders negotiate Congressional priorities, I joined colleagues on both sides of the aisle with a unified message: we need support for the millions of Americans living with the disease that is addiction and funding to support mental health resources. These priorities are vital to the long term well-being of upstate New York.”

”When developing future COVID-19 packages, mental health and medical research funding are non-negotiables,” said the lawmakers. “We need to do everything we can to guarantee the health and safety of the American people, including behavioral health. We must also ensure that the United States has the resources necessary to lead the charge toward a COVID-19 vaccine. Prioritizing mental health, addiction treatment, and medical research funding will help the American people through this unprecedented crisis.”

Additional letter signers include Reps. David Trone (D-MD), Max Rose (D-NY), Andy Kim (D-NJ), Joe Cunningham (D-SC), Cindy Axne (D-IA), Anthony Brown (D-MD), C.A. Dutch Ruppersberger (D-MD), Jennifer Wexton (D-VA), Harley Rouda (D-CA), Jason Crow (D-CO), Jahana Hayes (D-CT), Susie Lee (D-NV), Abigail D. Spanberger (D-VA), Andy Levin (D-MI), Wm. Lacy Clay (D-MO), Jerrold Nadler (D-NY), Alan Lowenthal (D-CA), Gwen Moore (D-WI), Barbara Lee (D-CA), Chris Pappas (D-NH), Joseph P. Kennedy, III (D-MA), Angie Craig (D-MN), TJ Cox (D-CA), Paul D. Tonko (D-NY), Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-FL), Jamie Raskin (D-MD), Susan Wild (D-PA), Lori Trahan (D-MA), Elissa Slotkin (D-MI), Kendra Horn (D-OK), Madeleine Dean (D-NJ), Josh Gottheimer (D-NJ), Jared Golden (D-ME), Conor Lamb (D-PA), Tony Cárdenas (D-CA), Sharice L. Davids (D-KS), Marcy Kaptur (D-OH), Brian Fitzpatrick (R-PA), Lucy McBath (D-GA), Tom O’Halleran (D-AZ), Marcia Fudge (D-OH), John P. Sarbanes (D-MD), Lizzie Fletcher (D-TX), Matt Cartwright (D-PA), Haley Stevens (D-MI), Judy Chu (D-CA), Katie Porter (D-CA), Karen Bass (D-CA), Abby Finkenauer (D-IA), Peter Welch (D-VT), Lauren Underwood (D-IL), Kim Schrier, M.D. (D-WA), Mike Levin (D-CA), Mark DeSaulnier (D-CA), José E. Serrano (D-NY), Ann McLane Kuster (D-NH), Dean Phillips (D-MN) and Anthony Bridinsi (D-NY). 

Full text of the letter can be found here or below:

August 5, 2020

The Honorable Nancy Pelosi

Speaker

U.S. House of Representatives

Washington, DC 20515

The Honorable Mitch McConnell

Majority Leader

U.S. Senate

Washington, DC 20515

The Honorable Kevin McCarthy

Republican Leader

U.S. House of Representatives

Washington, D.C. 20515

The Honorable Chuck Schumer

Democratic Leader

U.S. Senate

Washington, D.C. 20515

Dear Speaker Pelosi, Republican Leader McCarthy, Majority Leader McConnell, and Democratic Leader Schumer,

Thank you for your leadership as we navigate this difficult time for the American people. We are pleased that prior COVID-19 response packages have prioritized funding for mental health services, substance use disorder, and medical research. The need to fund these priorities has never been greater, and we respectfully request that you include the highest possible amounts of funding for mental health support, substance use disorder services, and medical research in the relief package currently under negotiation. 

Mental Health Services 

Significant research is still required to understand the full mental health impact of COVID-19. Despite a lack of data, research into past large-scale traumas enables us to anticipate the pandemic’s effects and subsequent need for mental health services. Scientists have discovered that 40% of recovered patients from the 2003 SARS epidemic were left with a psychiatric illness such as post-traumatic stress syndrome. The National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) anticipates 10-15% of the population will experience long-term health impacts from COVID-19 and would benefit from evidence-based interventions. Recent data from the Census Bureau suggests a similar mental health crisis due to COVID-19; over 30% of Americans are already showing signs of clinical anxiety or depression. We should anticipate a surge of new mental health needs as a result of COVID-19 and provide robust funding to meet this coming challenge head-on in order to expand access to effective treatments. 

Substance Use Disorder Treatment

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recently reported a record number of overdose deaths in 2019 (70,980 total). Fatal overdoses increased by almost 5% from 2018 to 2019, and the evidence shows us the pandemic will only exacerbate this trend. Overdoses increased 29% in April and 42% in May compared to those months in 2019. Some parts of the country have seen fatal overdoses increase by 50% compared to last year. While Congress has rightly focused on the COVID-19 response, we cannot lose sight of the addiction crisis. Congress must provide substantive funding to SAMHSA to increase prevention efforts and ensure that individuals with substance use disorders are connected to treatment, despite the additional barriers posed by COVID-19. 

Mental and Behavioral Health Treatment Providers

Cancellations of procedures and appointments due to COVID-19 have reduced revenues for healthcare providers and hospitals, while the need for additional personal protective equipment and increased sanitation has increased expenses. Many providers and hospitals were eligible for grants or loans provided in previous COVID-19-response packages. However, as these funds were largely based on 2019 Medicare payments, many mental and behavioral healthcare providers were not eligible. A National Council for Behavioral Health survey found that 93% of community behavioral health organizations have reduced their services and 36% of small organizations have rescheduled or turned away patients. Under current conditions, just 6% of small organizations and 13% of larger organizations anticipate surviving another 12 months.9 We cannot allow 90% of community behavioral health organizations, which are critical in treating individuals with mental illness and substance use disorder, to disappear during the COVID-19 pandemic due to a lack of funding. 

This lack of funding is particularly concerning for organizations that combine physical health, mental health, and substance use disorder treatment to provide 24/7 crisis care. Certified Community Behavioral Health Centers (CCBHCs) work with law enforcement and schools, and coordinate with hospitals to reduce emergency department visits. Due to their central role in the provision of mental health services, CCBHCs are a critical component to any COVID-19 response. Additional federal support is necessary to help CCBHCs meet the increased need to provide primary and behavioral health care while giving hospitals space to treat this pandemic.

Medical Research

COVID-19 is an incredibly complex disease that leaves some infected individuals unscathed, while quickly killing others. It can cause a broad range of symptoms from loss of taste to nausea, and can seemingly impact almost every organ system. Older individuals and those with preexisting conditions are at a higher risk for poor outcomes, and a multisystem inflammatory syndrome has been associated with COVID-19 in children. Little is known about the long-term effects for those who have survived infection, but reports show that some individuals experience symptoms for months. Extensive research is needed to better understand virus transmission, its impact on different organ systems, additional risks posed to specific populations and how they can be mitigated, which treatments are the most effective, and long-term outcomes of the disease. It is imperative that the National Institutes of Health (NIH) receive robust funding to conduct this critical research. 

In addition to providing funding for new research, the next COVID-19-response bill must include funding to resume NIH-funded research, which takes place across the country. Resources will be needed to safely reopen laboratories and continue work that has been paused since the beginning of the pandemic. This funding will preserve jobs in every state and ensure that the research started months ago is not lost.

As Congress continues to address the needs of the American people, we must ensure that we safeguard the general health and wellbeing of our communities. Medical research and mental and behavioral health support services will be crucial components of recovering from this pandemic and preparing for the next one. Therefore, we respectfully request the highest possible funding for these services. Thank you for your consideration of this request.

Sincerely,

MIL OSI USA News