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Mental Health, Children, Healthcare Discussed at Children Health and Human Services Committee

Crystal D. Swann
January 28, 2013


The Children, Health and Human Services Standing Committee met on January 18 to discuss issues facing cities including mental health services, child poverty and healthcare costs. The meeting was held during the 81st Winter Meeting of the U.S. Conference of Mayors, under the chairmanship of Green Bay Mayor James Schmitt long with his committee vice chairs, Washington (DC) Mayor Vincent Gray and Oklahoma City Mayor Mick Cornett. The guest speakers included Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius, Founder and President of the Children’s Defense Fund Marian Wright Edelman, Chattanooga Mayor Ron Littlefield, and Grammy nominated singer and Founder of the Mario Do Right Foundation Mario Barrett.

Healthcare, Mental Health Access

Sebelius updated the mayors on the new resources available to begin confronting the desperate need for mental health service access especially for young people. In President Obama’s recently released violence prevention plan, Sebelius pointed out, is a focus on mental health training and awareness. The President’s plan centers largely on training teachers, parents, social workers and others who work with children, teens and young adults to recognize mental illness as it’s developing. The new initiative, Project Aware, which would need congressional approval, would provide mental health first aid training for teachers and establish a referral system for children with mental health and behavioral problems. Sebelius highlighted a separate initiative that would have a strong focus on “transitional aged children.” These are older teens and young adults—ages 16-25—in need of mental health assistance.

In addition, Sebelius indicated that the president plans to sign a final rule on mental health parity that will apply to nearly every type of insurance, from state Medicaid programs to employer coverage to individual health plans sold under the Affordable Care Act. The final rule, which does not require congressional approval, would seek to achieve full parity and integration of mental health and medical care as intended by the 2008 Mental Health Parity and Addiction Equity Act. The Affordable Care Act implementation is integral to providing health care to those with physical and mental illness.

She concluded her remarks by noting that the open enrollment process for the new health exchanges begins October 1, and that those states that choose to expand their Medicaid rolls would receive 100 percent federal coverage support for 2014-2116. She noted that the new law and exchanges would impact 46 million people who are currently uninsured by giving them access to health care, mental health and substance care as well.

Child Poverty, Gun Violence

Edelman addressed the mayors on the overwhelming prevalence of child poverty and gun violence. In a new awareness campaign, Edelman is warning law makers to be careful what federal funds that cut because some of those programs might continue to unduly burden the least among us—children. Citing astounding statistics, Edelman called on mayors and elected officials to put children first. “The greatest threat to our national security and a nation’s soul is our failure to protect and invest in all of our children,” she said. There are currently 16.1 million children living in poverty with 7.3 million children living in extreme poverty.

Investing in children includes investing in early childhood education for every child. Noting that many children in 4th, 8th and 12th grade (including 60 percent of all race and income levels) cannot read or compute at grade level, Edelman posed the question, “What’s a child to do who cannot read or compute at grade level? What are they going to do in this globalized economy? They are being sentenced to social economic death and sentenced to prison.”

Shifting the conversation, Edelman cited astounding statistics on gun violence deaths in the U.S.—1.3 million people have died from gun violence and suicide by gun. That’s more people than who died in all of our wars including the Revolutionary War. Calling the President’s gun proposal a good first step, Edelman called on the mayors to keep the dialogue going and to keep the faces of those injured or killed by gun violence in the forefront of the conversation. She concluded that Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’ greatest concern that “We are all integrating, he feared in the last months, into a burning house...” He was, she continued, referring to America’s obsession with militarism and violence, our obsession with materialism, and our obsession with racism. She called on mayors to urge congress to invest in children, thus invest in America’s future.

Controlling Healthcare Costs in Cities

Littlefield discussed an innovative wellness program he is implementing in his city that has keep the cost of employee healthcare flat-lined for five years. With health care benefit costs ranking as the number one concern among city governments, Littlefield knew his city was not immune. With healthcare costs rising ten percent annually, the city decided to create it’s own doctors clinic, in-house pharmacy and wellness program to provide free healthcare and health care pharmaceuticals to city employees and their beneficiaries. Chattanooga is a self-insured government, 2500 employees, and the city provided incentives to its employees to join the city’s wellness program and to have access to lower-cost health care and prescriptions.

The plan worked and as a result the city has flat-lined its employee health care costs. “If you do wellness right, I mean comprehensively, it pays off and it actually works,” stated Littlefield. The costs savings allowed the city to build a new $4 million health center which was built on a brownfield and LEED certified.

Mentorship

In our final presentation, the mayors heard from Mario Barrett, better known as simply, MARIO. Through his own difficult upbringing in Baltimore as the son of a heroin addicted mom and then rising to international fame, MARIO realized that he could use his fame to help children. “It was a point where I realized that is was my duty as a young adult coming from Baltimore to help influence kids in my city who went through the same thing,” stated MARIO. He spoke the mayors about his upbringing in a family with a drug-addicted mother and how that experienced shaped his life and his philanthropic endeavors. MARIO, along with childhood friend Kevin Shird, started the MARIO Do Right Foundation to support, educate, guide and mentor young children of drug-addicted parents. Through his foundation work, MARIO hopes to continue to reach kids beyond Baltimore.