Chairman Neal Opening Statement at Hearing on America’s Mental Health Crisis
(As prepared for delivery)
Welcome to the first Ways and Means Committee hearing for the second session of the 117th Congress, and the Committee’s first hearing on mental health in more than a decade.
For far too long, Americans have shied away from conversations about mental health, contributing to the deeply held stigma around seeking care. While we’ve made great strides in recognizing the importance of caring for our mental health as a society, it’s time for Congress to act.
Before the pandemic, one in 10 American adults reported symptoms of anxiety or a depressive disorder. Since then, that rate has skyrocketed to four in 10 adults. There’s no denying the pandemic has exacerbated the mental health crisis, and as we will hear today, its effects are compounding.
On top of life’s typical triggers, people now also face the fear of contracting COVID-19, prolonged social isolation, the stress of uncertain or unpredictable child care, and the anxiety of losing a job and economic security. For health and human services workers and other essential workers, this trauma has permeated their entire lives as they deal with the effects of the pandemic at both home and work. The added stress of being overworked or short-staffed is pushing many Americans to their limits.
This is a crisis on top of a crisis.
And the impacts are not only felt in our personal, daily lives, but also in our economy. For those seeking care and taking care of loved ones, lost earnings due to serious mental illness represent an estimated $193.2 billion each year.
On top of this, we hear far too often about the difficulty constituents face in accessing services to address their mental health needs. From being forced to wait months for an appointment, to the challenge of finding in-network providers, the current state of our mental health care system is unacceptable. The workforce hasn’t been able to keep up with demand, and insurance plans haven’t expanded to include this crucial care, despite long-standing requirements.
There’s no single solution to strengthen the system, but a good starting point is building provider capacity, not only to meet overall demand, but also to better address the needs of our diverse patient population. The Pathways to Practice Program, contained in legislation the Committee marked up last year, would help build a diverse physician base that receives the necessary training to appropriately care for the diversity of need across the nation. The growing mental health crisis only adds to the need for this crucial policy.
We also need to strengthen care across the entire mental health continuum, making all types of providers more accessible – not just physicians. Marriage and family therapists and licensed clinical social workers are two examples of non-physician providers that could make a huge impact in people’s lives and on their health.
We must also better align coverage to meet needs. The Biden Administration recently released a report showing that despite long-standing mental health parity requirements, insurance plans inadequately cover mental health care. Patients deserve better – accordingly, today, we will also discuss how we can strengthen our enforcement measures.
The outpouring of interest in today’s hearing demonstrates the urgent need for action. This hearing is just the first in a series on this topic, which is clearly on the minds of so many Americans.
I am pleased that Ranking Member Brady shares my interest and commitment to addressing these matters together. Ultimately, our goal is to take action as soon as possible and begin changing the way we deliver and access mental health services in this country. We must eliminate the stigma around mental health care and focus on building a system that is holistic, accessible, and equitable.
With that, I will recognize Ranking Member Brady for the purpose of an opening statement.