CounselorsEmpowerACA Government Affairs Blog

The ACA Government Affairs team strives to keep the counseling community connected with important legislative news, updates, and announcements that affect the profession. Questions? Want to get involved in our advocacy efforts? Email us at 


Dec 16, 2016

President Signs Landmark Mental Health Legislation

By signing the 21st Century Cures Act, President Obama approved the first major mental health legislation in nearly a decade.

The Cures Act includes the Helping Families in Mental Health Crisis Reform Act, which combined mental health legislation from several Members of Congress. The Cures Act also includes sections that speed up drug approval at the FDA and provide new healthcare research money at NIH. There are several provisions in the mental health section that relate specifically to counselors. 

The Cures Act passed both Houses of Congress nearly unanimously, showing the importance Congress is placing on healthcare research and improving the nation’s mental health programs and services. It is one of the few notable pieces of legislation passed in a year when there was little bipartisan agreement. 

The new legislation encourages federal agencies to fund programs that are backed by research and to collect data on whether patients actually benefit. The bill strengthens laws mandating parity for mental health care and includes grants to increase the number of mental health professionals in areas where they are in short supply across the country.

The Cures Act improves integration and program coordination across federal agencies that serve people with mental illness, and removes barriers to mental health care. It helps people with mental illness who become involved in the criminal justice system to keep them out of jail and in treatment.

The Cures Act also:

  • Provides resources to fight the opioid epidemic.
  • Invests in early intervention so people get mental health care at the right time, even in childhood.
  • Provides resources to fight suicide in schools and communities.
  • Authorizes funding for the development of model training and educational programs to educate health providers, individuals and families regarding the permitted use and disclosure of health information under HIPAA.
  • Provides screening and treatment for maternal depression.
  • Establishes an Assistant Secretary for Mental Health and Substance Use to head SAMHSA. 

The Cures Act tells states to use at least ten percent of their mental health block grants on coordinated specialty care to provide early intervention for significant mental health problems. The bill also establishes a grant program to provide assertive community treatment programs and expands a grant program for assisted outpatient treatment, which provides court-ordered care for people with serious mental illness who might otherwise not seek help. 

Counselors or counseling are specifically included in the following sections of the bill:

  • Section 6005, which directs SAMHSA to collaborate with HRSA on ways to encourage individuals to pursue careers in mental health, especially in rural areas.
  • Section 9021, which reauthorizes grants to institutions of higher learning to support the recruitment and education of mental health care providers, including both counselors and school counselors.
  • Section 9024, which establishes a Minority Fellowship Program that will increase the number of professionals who provide mental or substance abuse disorder services to underserved minority populations and improve the quality of services to those populations.
  • Section 9031, which reauthorizes the Mental Health and Substance Use Disorder Services on Campuses grant program, and increases awareness and training to respond effectively to students with mental health and substance use disorders; to provide outreach to administer voluntary screenings and assessments to students; and to provide direct mental health services.
  • Section 10002, which authorizes HRSA to award grants to promote behavioral health integration in pediatric primary care, and includes counselors in pediatric mental health teams.
  • Section 11004, which requires the Secretary of Health and Human Services to develop model training and educational programs to educate health care providers, regulatory compliance staff, and others regarding the permitted use and disclosure of health information under HIPAA.

Members of Congress responsible for writing and passing this legislation include Congressman Tim Murphy (PA), Congresswoman Eddie Bernice Johnson (TX), Senator Chris Murphy (CT),  Senator Bill Cassidy (LA) and Senator John Cornyn (TX).

A detailed summary of the mental health legislation can be found here.

Read more ACA Government Affairs Blog posts here.

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  1. 5 Elena 16 Dec
    I don't see where it specifically says Medicare needs to cover the service of LMHC's. Does it?
  2. 4 Kathleen Murphy MA PCC-S 16 Dec
        Fine, but will my credentials be recognized in order to work at the VA? Will I be able to be compensated at a rate (of pay) worthy of my  education and experience? Yes there is a huge need, HUGE!  However,  as it stands, the risk I , as an Independently licensed provider incur for treating client's for a ridiculously low sum  ($30.00 per Hour) and that is only if they show up (!) is not worth it . Not to mention the tax ramifications of being an "independent contractor " which means self employed.  If I could (with my 29 years experience) get some kind of real job that had flexibility and actually paid that would be great! but how can this country say MH and AOD is a "Priority" when they give the providers starvation wages and put such horrific liability clauses on them that they run from the field? I haven't even gotten into the documentation aspects of working in MH and AOD. Complying with HIPPA, fine, Electronic records ! ? Seriously? Most MH and AoD providers want to get away with the cheapest electronic record keeping program possible, IE FREE, Having contracted employees use their own personal computers (while all writing case notes on the same clients) How safe does that sound? You are only as strong as your weakest link! Not to forget this information is stored in the "cloud" WTH? sorry, I do not want to play that game, I am not wanting to risk my license on "the cloud" nor on some 2 year AA CDA taking their computer home to write group notes on one of my clients and something:'happens" Because whose License is one the line? Mine.....
  3. 3 Lavander 17 Dec
    This is  interesting  news and I want to be a part of our growing population.
  4. 2 Melanie Walker MS, PLPC 18 Dec
    This appears to be a plus for the mental health field in providing care for all and not just a few.
  5. 1 Emily 05 Jan
    Interesting....and I guess it is the right time. I wonder why our generation is more concerned about mental issues. Years ago people didn't understand what is it and lived ok. Not great but ok.
    Anyway, the world is rising and all problems have to be solved.


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