Obama's Gun Plan Includes Increased Mental Health Services for Children and Teens

In the wake of the shooting rampage in Newtown, Connecticut, President Obama put forth a comprehensive plan to address gun violence. Although the national press has mainly focused on the parts of the President's plan that pertain to gun ownership, many of the proposals address mental health issues, including a substantial expansion of services for children and teenagers with mental illnesses and a promise to vigorously enforce existing mental health parity laws.

The President's mental health plan, called Project AWARE, would require Congressional approval and could change the lives of up to 750,000 young Americans with mental illness if enacted. One proposal has been called "a game changer" by Mike Fitzpatrick, executive director of the National Alliance on Mental Illness. As Kaiser Health News reports, the President has asked Congress to approve several measures that would give educators mental health first-aid training and increase funding for mental health services for teens.

In addition to first-aid training, Project AWARE calls for $40 million "to help school districts work with law enforcement, mental health agencies, and other local organizations to assure students with mental health issues or other behavioral issues are referred to the services they need," $25 million "for innovative state-based strategies supporting young people ages 16 to 25 with mental health or substance abuse issues" and $50 million in stipends and tuition reimbursement to train more than 5,000 additional mental health workers who help young people.

In addition to these new services, President Obama has promised to fully enforce the mental health parity laws that are already in place. Both the Paul Wellstone and Pete Domenici Mental Health Parity and Addiction Equity Act of 2008 and the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act of 2010 (also known as Obamacare) contain strict mandates requiring insurers to provide mental health coverage that is equal to the coverage that beneficiaries would receive for other conditions. However, the administration has not issued final regulations explaining how the federal government will enforce these laws. The President has pledged to issue regulations shortly, and he has also promised to issue a letter to state Medicaid agencies clarifying that they should already be providing equal access to mental health services through their Medicaid plans.

To read the White House's entire gun violence plan, including the mental health provisions, click here.

Article Last Modified: 01/27/2013