September 27, 2018

Luján's Health Care Jobs Priorities Included in Funding Bill, Opioids Package

Yesterday, the FY 2019 Defense and Labor-HHS-Education Appropriations Minibus passed the House 361-61, which included language championed by Congressman Ben Ray Luján (D-NM) providing funding for peer support programs. Specifically, $75 million in the Minibus allocated for the Behavioral Health Workforce Education and Training Program (BHWET) program includes funding for behavioral health paraprofessionals – or Peer Support Specialists –  to bolster the mental health and substance use disorder workforce.

Peer support programs championed by Luján also received support in the final opioids package announced this week. Notably, the legislative package includes language authored by Luján that requires HHS to establish or operate a National Peer-Run Training and Technical Assistance Center for Addiction Recovery Support, to provide technical assistance and support to recovery community organizations and peer support networks providing peer support services related to substance use disorder. The package also reauthorizes and modifies the Building Communities of Recovery program to include peer support networks and directs the GAO to study and submit a report on how Medicaid covers peer support services.

“New Mexico needs more health care workers to meet families’ behavioral health needs, including substance use disorder,” saidLuján. “Peer support programs are an effective way to expand people’s access to care while increasing job opportunities. New Mexico is leading the nation when it comes to the use of peer support specialists, and I’m pleased to see Congress provide support for this successful model at the national level.”

The Behavioral Health Workforce Education and Training Program (BHWET) helps create greater access to behavioral health services by establishing partnerships with community organizations. Peer support specialists are individuals who have been through mental health treatment themselves and undergo extensive training to be able to support others through their treatment. The purpose of the BHWET Program is to add additional trained behavioral health workers to serve populations especially in rural and medically underserved areas.

Earlier this year, Farmington, NM resident, Carlene Deal-Smith testified before a Congressional panel focused on finding solutions to the growing opioid epidemic. Ms. Deal-Smith is a Native American woman of the Navajo Nation, who works at Presbyterian Medical Services through their Totah Behavioral Health Authority program. She appeared before the House Energy & Commerce Subcommittee on Health, of which Luján is a member, to provide insight into peer support programs that have been successful in helping in the recovery of those suffering with substance addiction problems. More information on Ms. Deal-Smith’s testimony can be found here.

There is growing evidence that peer support-related strategies have been found to result in more successful solutions than current hospital and emergency care related options. Studies have also shown the potential cost-savings that the increased implementation of peer support can deliver. A 2006 study demonstrated that, for patients using day treatment, the use of Certified Peer Specialists led to a $5,497 cost reduction per person per year. Another successful program based out of Denver showed a return on investment of $2.28 for every $1 spent. As evidenced by these and other studies, a small investment in peer support services will greatly reduce health care costs in the long run.