Skip To Content
October 13, 2022

Worried about mental health? You’re not alone.

Credit: POLITICO Future Pulse, Grace Scullion, Ben Leonard, Ruth Reader, and Carmen Paun

Washington Watch

Americans are now more concerned about their mental health than Covid, according to a recent poll from Ipsos.

The U.S. Preventive Services Task Force, which advises the Health and Human Services Department, recommended anxiety screening for children and teenagers this month. It is taking public comment through Oct. 17 on a draft recommendation that all adults be evaluated, too.

The situation is motivating lawmakers in both parties to provide an increasingly stressed, depressed and anxious populace with the appropriate care.

President Joe Biden signed into law the Bipartisan Safer Communities Act this summer after a mass shooting at a school in Uvalde, Texas. It authorized nearly $12 billion in funds for the 988 crisis hotline and behavioral health clinics that aim to help Medicaid patients. Only one in three psychiatrists accepts new patients using Medicaid, according to data from the National Ambulatory Medical Care Survey.

More legislation could gain traction when a new Congress convenes in January.

In the mix: The House passed the Restoring Hope for Mental Health and Well-Being Act, sponsored by Energy and Commerce Chair Frank Pallone (D-N.J.) and ranking member Cathy McMorris Rodgers (R-Wash.), in June with a big bipartisan majority. It would reauthorize many mental health-related programs, establish a 988 Behavioral Health Crisis Coordinating Office within the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration and enforce compliance with mental health coverage parity laws.

Senate Finance Chair Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) and ranking member Mike Crapo (R-Idaho) released a draft bill in September to use bonuses to attract practitioners to underserved areas, expand Medicare-funded residencies for psychiatrists and offer grants for states to address a shortage in mental health clinicians. The bill would also expand Medicare to cover therapist and counselor services.

A bipartisan Senate bill proposed by Tammy Baldwin (D-Wis.) and Susan Collins (R-Maine) aims to create an office within HHS that would work with states to expand the 988 hotline.

Republicans and Democrats agree they need to do more on mental health, but disagree on how much to invest, said the House’s Bipartisan Addiction and Mental Health Taskforce co-chair, David Trone (D-Md.): “The difference would be how many billions do we need to throw at it.”

Trone is making the case to GOP colleagues that the rural areas they tend to represent have fewer resources to deal with the situation.

The taskforce produced 106 pieces of legislation this session. The House passed 22 and Biden signed seven.

Long shots: But some mental health bills the House passed lack GOP support and won’t resurface if Republicans control the chamber next year.

The Mental Health Matters Act would invest in school-based mental health services. The Mental Health Justice Act would support state and local law-enforcement agencies in hiring mental health practitioners to respond to emergency calls in lieu of traditional officers.

The Lab

Food allergies are a major public health issue, affecting nearly one in 10 U.S. kids and tens of millions of adults.

Several firms are developing products they hope will combat the problem.

The companies: 

Ukko is developing proteins that don’t trigger an allergic reaction, starting with gluten. It’s also working on a drug for peanut allergies and hopes to enter clinical trials for both in the next couple years.

“There’ll be a gluten flour that’s totally regular flour that’s safe,” Ukko CEO and co-founder Anat Binur told Future Pulse. “Imagine your favorite bakery … you could walk in and replicate everything that’s there, but it would be safe for everyone.”

The stakes: Now, patients have to avoid allergens or undergo oral immunotherapy — ingesting small amounts of the allergen over time, which can be risky and time-consuming.

Tech Maze

More than one in three U.S. adults used telehealth last year, a marked increase from before the pandemic, according to new research from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s National Center for Health Statistics.

But white patients, as well as wealthier and more educated people, were more likely to take advantage than other groups, the study found, suggesting a digital divide that providers could bridge.

White patients were more likely to use telehealth at 39.2 percent versus Hispanic (32.8 percent), Black (33.1 percent) and Asian (33.0 percent) patients.

More than 43 percent of people with at least a college degree used telehealth in 2021 compared with about 30 percent for people with a high school degree or without one.

A number of factors could be at play: