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Blunt touts community mental health centers in Jefferson City visit

Sen. Roy Blunt is pushing for the expansion of mental health services at federally-funded community health centers. (Garrett Bergquist)

Senator Roy Blunt on Wednesday said expanding mental health services at federally-funded clinics would benefit America's entire healthcare system.

Blunt is promoting an expansion of the Excellence in Mental Health Act he co-authored in 2014 with Michigan Democratic Sen. Debbie Stabenow. The law funds mental and behavioral-health programs at federally-funded community health centers, such as Jefferson City's Community Health Center of Central Missouri. These centers accept both private and government-funded insurance, while uninsured patients pay fees that are adjusted based on their income. He said doing this dramatically expands the availability of mental health services by letting people handle all of their healthcare needs in one location.

"Every other health problem that big community has, of people who have a mental health problem, is so much more easily dealt with if people are feeling better about themselves, eating better, sleeping better, seeing their doctor," Blunt said.

He said people are slowly becoming more willing to discuss their mental health problems. He said he ultimately would like people to discuss them as easily as they do cancer or heart disease.

Richard Lillard, the behavioral health services director for Community Health Center of Central Missouri, said his organization has expanded behavioral health services since this summer, including telehealth services. He said bringing mental health services into the same building as physical medicine helps demystify and destigmatize the mental health system.

"Patients have rapport already established with their primary care provider most of the time," he said. "In a lot of instances, they are more likely to a mental health disorder or concern to their primary care provider."

In a statement on Blunt's visit, Missouri Democratic Party spokesman Sam Newton said people who need mental health services need to be able to afford them.

“We should all be fighting to expand access to mental health services, which is why it’s indefensible that Roy Blunt supported the effort from Republicans in Washington to repeal the Affordable Care Act," Newton said. "The GOP’s failed and unpopular healthcare overhaul would have gutted protections for Missourians who’ve been sick before and have a pre-existing health condition and decreased access to mental health services.”

Editor's Note: The story has been updated with a statement from the Missouri Democratic Party.

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