Alignment for Progress: 
A National Strategy for Mental Health and Substance Use Disorders

It’s time for a meaningful national conversation about mental health and substance use care. We must remove the barriers to equitable and available coverage for these conditions so people can get the help they need.

Welcome To The 
National Strategy

Want to understand more about the importance of building a National Strategy for Mental Health & Substance Use Disorders?

How Content Is Organized and How Best to Search/Sort the Recommendations

The National Strategy recommendations are organized by category, with impacted populations and topical areas providing additional nuance and the ability to narrow a search. We have also included the option to search recommendations by the relevant House and Senate committees of jurisdiction.

Recommendation Selection Methodologies and Criteria

After conducting a thorough review of the federal policy landscape, The Kennedy Forum team created this first-of-its-kind compilation of policy recommendations needed to transform our mental health and substance use systems. The recommendations have been sourced and vetted from numerous organizations, advocates, and experts across the country in order to capture a robust set of recommendations for lawmakers and federal agencies to act on.

All National Strategy Recommendations

These featured recommendations are highlighted based on their importance in beginning the national movement towards better care for everyone.

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Pass the Mental Health Research Accelerator Act

Congress should pass legislation such as the Mental Health Research Accelerator Act to provide a tax credit to offset expenses for translational research relating to neurodegenerative diseases and psychiatric conditions.

Neurodegenerative diseases and mental health conditions are major public health challenges that affect millions of people in the U.S. Despite the enormous impact of these conditions and many effective treatments, there is still an urgent need for more research to understand the causes, mechanisms, biomarkers, and therapeutic targets of these disorders.[1]

Translational research is a type of research that aims to bridge the gap between basic science and clinical applications. It involves the translation of discoveries from the laboratory to the clinic, and vice-versa. Translational research can accelerate the development of new diagnostics, therapeutics, and preventive interventions for neurodegenerative diseases and psychiatric conditions, but currently there is insufficient funding for such research.[2]

To encourage more translational research, Congress should pass legislation to provide a tax credit to offset expenses for this research such as the Mental Health Research Accelerator Act of 2022, which would allow a tax credit through 2031 for 25 percent of expenses for translational research for neurodegenerative diseases and psychiatric conditions.[3] This bill would provide an incentive and support for researchers and organizations to conduct more translational research in these fields, increasing innovation and ultimately effective treatments.

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social determinants of health

Population

coverage & Standards

Federal Department

house committees

Senate committees

Develop medications to treat substance use disorder

Congress should provide additional resources to the National Institutes of Health to increase research in concert with the pharmaceutical industry to develop and test innovative medications for substance use disorders (SUDs), including long-acting injectables, more potent opioid antagonists to reverse overdose, drugs used for detoxification, and vaccines, and treatments for stimulant use disorder.[1]

More scientific research is needed to reduce the devastating impact of SUDs.[1] Research efforts launched by the federal government are already underway, but greater investments are needed. For example, the National Institutes of Health’s (NIH) Helping to End Addiction Long-term (HEAL) Initiative is an effort that spans multiple institutes and centers at the NIH. HEAL’s research priorities include a focus on developing preventive measures for opioid use disorder (OUD), new treatment options for people with SUDs and OUD as well as examining new options to manage pain without opioids.[2] A critical component of this initiative includes public-private partnerships with pharmaceutical companies to develop and test new therapies.[1] While these efforts are critical, there is still a tremendous need to develop new treatment strategies, including the potential to use vaccines to prevent SUDs.[1] Congress should continue to invest in programs like the HEAL Initiative, as well as the research being conducted at individual NIH institutes and centers to identify and develop new tools to prevent and address SUDs.

Topics

social determinants of health

Population

coverage & Standards

Federal Department

house committees

Senate committees

Expand EHR utilization in MH/SUD

Congress should pass legislation like the Behavioral Health Information Technology Coordination Act to advance adoption of electronic health records (EHRs) among mental health and substance use disorder (MH/SUD) providers.[1][2]

More than 95 percent of medical/surgical hospitals utilize EHRs, but only half of psychiatric hospitals do.[3] An important contributor to this gap was that MH/SUD providers were not eligible for $35 billion in federal assistance to adopt EHRs under the Health Information Technology for Economic and Clinical Health (HITECH) Act of 2009 Act.[4]

Lower EHR utilization by MH/SUD providers causes large systemic issues that negatively affect individuals with MH/SUDs in profound, yet underappreciated, ways. For instance, EHRs enhance efficiency and information sharing and have become integral to health care delivery in America. MH/SUD providers who lack EHRs are inhibited in care integration because their paper-based systems cannot interact with physical health providers who have modern EHRs.[1] Additionally, paper-based records are easily lost or damaged. EHRs have also become critical to measuring patient outcomes, advancing value-based care, and conducting clinical research.[5] Thus, it is essential to expand EHR adoption among MH/SUD providers to improve the quality of care and create a modern MH/SUD delivery system.

Congress must act to address its failure to include many MH/SUD providers in previous efforts to advance EHR adoption by passing legislation like the Behavioral Health Information Technology Coordination Act, which would dedicate $20 million a year over five years to assist MH/SUD providers in adopting EHRs.[1][2]

Topics

social determinants of health

Population

coverage & Standards

Federal Department

house committees

Senate committees

Increase research on tech-assisted monitoring and treatment for SUD

The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS), Food and Drug Administration (FDA), and the United States Preventive Services Task Force (USPSTF) should implement a fast-track review process for any new evidence-based technology supporting substance use disorder (SUD) prevention and treatments.[1]

In response to the growing overdose crisis and the need for a wider variety of tools to help prevent and treat SUDs, the 2017 President’s Commission on Combating Drug Addiction and the Opioid Crisis recommended that CMS, FDA, and USPSTF implement a fast-track review process for new evidence-based Technology-Assisted Monitoring and Treatment (TAMT).[1]

TAMT may improve health outcomes for high-risk and SUD patients.[1][2] New technologies such as wearable devices, home monitoring systems, digital therapies, or software-based applications are being leveraged to improve access to care for SUDs and track outcomes.[1] These advances have allowed access to SUD monitoring, treatment, and services through phones, laptops, and tablets.[2] Congress should invest additional resources into further developing this technology and accelerate its safe use.

While this is still an emerging area of technology and care delivery, once a product is deemed safe and effective for the treatment of SUDs, it is critical to provide timely access and reimbursement. Ensuring access to new technology requires joint efforts among entities that play different regulatory roles. The FDA may be tasked with reviewing the safety and effectiveness of a new product or application. CMS will be responsible for evaluating insurance coverage for Medicare beneficiaries. The USPSTF may also have a role to play, given its authority to determine which preventive services must be covered by health insurance plans as required by the Affordable Care Act. Regardless of these agencies' regulatory roles, they should have expedited review processes in place to ensure new and emerging TAMT reaches patients as quickly as possible.[1]

Topics

social determinants of health

Population

coverage & Standards

Federal Department

house committees

Senate committees

Update the VA national formulary

The Department of Veterans Affairs should update its National Formulary to make all clinically appropriate non-opioid therapies available to patients.

Active duty military, reserve service members, and veteran populations have unique physical and mental health challenges related to their service that can contribute to and exacerbate pain conditions. Combat-related injuries are commonly accompanied by post-traumatic stress disorder and traumatic brain injury. Nearly half of combat-wounded veterans report misusing prescription opioids, and drug overdose mortality rates among veterans increased by 53 percent from 2010-2019.[1]

Yet, the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) National Formulary (VANF) currently does not include several Food and Drug Administration (FDA)-approved non-opioid analgesic products while covering a wide range of opioid-based analgesic products to manage acute pain symptoms. The exclusion of these safe and effective products results in VA patients having little choice in how they manage their pain. Clinically appropriate non-opioid therapies include products that are (1) Approved by the FDA and therefore deemed to be safe and effective; (2) Indicated for use in providing analgesic support for acute, postsurgical pain; and (3) Proven to reduce quantities of opioids prescribed.[2]

In 2022, Congress passed the Non-Opioids Prevent Addiction in the Nation Act (“NOPAIN Act”) to ensure non-opioid therapies are widely available to Medicare recipients who receive outpatient surgical procedures. The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) must move quickly to fully implement this law to ensure Medicare access to non-opioid therapies is available. Additionally, the VA should ensure that all FDA-approved  non-opioid therapies are included in the VANF.[3]

Topics

social determinants of health

Population

coverage & Standards

Federal Department

house committees

Senate committees

Expand parity compliance analysis requirements

The Consolidated Appropriations Act, 2021 (CAA 2021) amended the Federal Parity Law to explicitly require group health plans and issuers to conduct parity compliance analyses. Congress should apply these requirements to Medicaid managed care, Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP), and alternative benefit plans.

Non-Quantitative Treatment Limitations (NQTLs) are non-numerical limitations or restrictions to an insurance benefit’s scope or duration (e.g., prior authorization, step therapy, medical necessity exclusions).[1][2] The Mental Health Parity and Addiction Equity Act (MHPAEA) requires that an NQTL applied to mental health/substance use disorder benefits be comparable and not more restrictive than the same NQTL applied to medical/surgical benefits.[1][2][3] The Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2021 (CAA) amended MHPAEA to require most individual and group health plans to perform analyses demonstrating their compliance with MHPAEA.[2][4][5] These analyses must be submitted to the Secretaries of Health and Human Services (HHS), Labor (DOL), or Treasury, as well as any applicable state regulator, upon request.[2][4][5]

While this is important progress toward ensuring the parity compliance envisioned by the implementation of the MHPAEA, the CAA currently applies to individual and group health plans but not Medicaid, leaving tens of millions of Americans without important protections relating to MHPAEA compliance.[6][7][8] Applying the CAA requirements to Medicaid, CHIP, and alternative benefit plans is particularly important given that these plans serve disproportionately low-income populations and people of color.[7]

Topics

social determinants of health

Population

coverage & Standards

Federal Department

house committees

Senate committees

Have a Question About the Strategy? Want to Get Involved?

If you'd like to provide input to future iterations of the National Strategy, ask a question about our recommendations, or make an organizational commitment to the Alignment for Progress, please reach out today.

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