Chiquita Brooks-LaSure, the administrator for the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services, said that the top federal health care regulatory agency’s focus is on promoting health equity.
Brooks-LaSure twice invoked the late American civil rights icon Martin Luther King Jr. to frame improving access to health care, specifically behavioral health, as a right of Americans.
“[King] called health care access the new civil right. And that means we must work to ensure equity and equality for mental health care and substance abuse issues,” Brooks-LaSure said, speaking in a prerecorded message played at the National Council for Mental Wellbeing’s Hill Day at Home. “We emphasize health equity: It is the first question we ask, not the last.”
To that effect, Brooks-LaSure highlighted her role as a co-chair of two working groups — children and youth working group and the physical and behavioral health integration working group — within the Behavioral Health Coordinating Council.
Behavioral Health Business reported in May that the U.S. Health and Human Services Department, the parent organization of CMS, created the council. HHS also announced the distribution of $3 billion in block grants for mental health and substance use disorders.
The council is meant to take a “one-department approach” to behavioral health and is headed by Assistant Secretary for Health Rachel Levine and Assistant Secretary for Mental Health and Substance Use Miriam Delphin-Rittmon.
“As you see, CMS and the entire Biden administration supports you and your work,” Brooks-LaSure said. “That’s why we’re committed to achieving mental health parity, expanding access to mental health care, eliminating mental health stigma and addressing substance use and mental health challenges.”
Brooks-LaSure acknowledged that CMS is grappling with at least two unresolved issues that are tied to the public health emergency, the temporary regulatory framework meant to help federal agencies better address the coronavirus pandemic: Those being telehealth use and reimbursement flexibility as well as expanded Medicaid coverage.
Speaking of telehealth, Brooks-LaSure said, “We’ll be thoroughly examining the best way to go forward to ensure access to services,” before moving on to address states Medicaid agencies withdrawing coverage to people after the public health emergency ends.
CMS will hold focus groups to examine how to handle Medicaid eligibility post-pandemic. It will also provide states with technical assistance with redeterminations of eligibility.
CMS has also extended the timeframe to determine permanent eligibility for Medicaid applicants to up to a year after the emergency lifts. It is also requiring states to redetermine the eligibility of those who were denied Medicaid coverage during the pandemic.
Brooks-LaSure’s remarks were billed as an update from the Biden administration. She highlighted several other previous efforts of the administration. Here’s a rundown of the ones that apply to behavioral health:
— The revitalization of the Connecting Kids to Coverage National Campaign originally created by the Children’s Health Insurance Program Reauthorization Act and the ACA to reconnect youth ages 19 and under back to behavioral health services along with primary care and preventative health services. This is a response to the dip in CHIP-covered youth’s engagement with the health system.
— $15 million made available for states provide community-based mobile crisis intervention services for those with Medicaid via the American Rescue Plan Act
— CMS funding 1,000 additional physician residency slots over the next five years, including in some unspecified number of qualifying behavioral health facilities.