CMS approves Medicaid’s mobile behavioral health crisis program, ‘first in nation’

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) announced Monday that Oregon will be the first state in the nation to roll out a mobile crisis response program under Medicaid. The focus of the new program: behavioral health care.

Leaders from HHS and the US Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) tout the initiative as the first of its kind, one they strongly encourage other states to follow. Mobile crisis programs are part of the Biden administration’s broader plans to increase behavioral health access and equity.

The new Medicaid amendment, which became available to states in April 2022, allows Oregon to provide mobile care for people with mental illnesses or addictions. CMS is now encouraging more states to join Oregon.

“We hope other states will follow Oregon’s lead. CMS and our state partners have tremendous capacity and opportunity to help people living with behavioral health issues,” CMS Administrator Chiquita Brooks-LaSure said during a press call Monday. “Medicaid covers behavioral health services for millions of people in the United States. And we will continue to strengthen and expand access to these essential services.

Mobile crisis teams, made up of behavioral health professionals and paraprofessionals, can be dispatched to a person in crisis 24/7.

The teams are able to provide screening, assessment, stabilization and de-escalation services. In addition, teams can coordinate with health and social services.

The American Rescue Plan has allocated $15 million in planning grants to help 20 state Medicaid agencies set up these programs. If the programs see promising results, more money can follow.

“I recently had the opportunity to join [Sen. Ron Wyden] (D-Ore.) to visit a mobile crisis site in Eugene, Oregon last month,” Brooks-LaSure said. “It was wonderful to see local officials, including the police department and health care providers, working together to provide this essential care. CMS’s partnership with Oregon contributes to the Biden-Harris administration’s whole-of-government strategy to transform mental health services for all Americans.

In addition, 988 call centers will be able to request a mobile crisis team.

“Oregon’s model for the mobile community-based crisis response team is centered on the value that a behavioral health crisis is resolved through a behavioral health response,” the Oregon Governor said Monday. ‘Oregon, Kate Brown, during a press call. “Thus, all services will be culturally, linguistically and developmentally appropriate. Instead of a law enforcement response, there will be trained people who are skilled in crisis intervention, such as de-escalation techniques, screening and crisis assessment.

The Biden administration has made behavioral health services a top priority.

For example, in July the White House pledged nearly $300 million to expand mental health services in schools. Additionally, earlier this month it awarded $79.1 million in overdose prevention grants.

In 2022, the Biden administration invested $432 million to support the 988 transition.

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