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Sen. Menendez urges Congress to address mental health provider shortages, tackle barriers to care for young people and marginalized communities

WASHINGTON, D.C. – U.S. Senator Bob Menendez (D-N.J.), a senior member of the U.S. Senate Finance Committee, Wednesday participated in a hearing entitled, “Barriers to Mental Health Care: Improving Provider Directory Accuracy to Reduce the Prevalence of Ghost Networks,” about how Congress can act strategically to improve access to mental health care and address the access barriers created by so-called “ghost networks.

The Senator spoke about how increasing graduate medical education positions for training more mental health providers can increase access to services and improve care.

“The problem of “ghost networks” is particularly harmful in mental health care, and one arguably made worse in recent years. Amid the nation’s ongoing mental health crisis through the pandemic and beyond, those desperate for help continue to get ghosted,” Menendez said. “Reality is, there just aren’t enough providers. I was proud to secure, with my colleagues on the Committee, 100 new graduate medical education slots reserved for psychiatry in last year’s Consolidated Appropriations Act. Last week, I reintroduced my Resident Physician Shortage Reduction Act alongside Senators Boozman, Schumer, and Collins. The bipartisan bill would raise the number of GME positions by an additional 14,000 over seven years.”

Sen. Menendez emphasized how for children in need of mental health care, the problem is worse. According to data by the American Psychological Association, only 4,000 out of more than 100,000 U.S. clinical psychologists are child and adolescent clinicians.

“Imagine for a moment that you or someone you love is in the midst of a mental health crisis. You call 70+ doctors listed in your insurance plan’s network. Not one is available for an appointment within two months. Most never call you back. Some are retired, others are dead. Some phone lines were disconnected,” Menendez said. “This is the reality for far too many people seeking mental health care services in New Jersey and across the country. It’s critical that people seeking mental health services have access to accurate, up-to-date provider directories. This outdated information hurts people when they are desperate to get help for themselves or a loved one.”

The Senator concluded by highlighting how the harmful effects of ghost networks are exacerbated by their disproportionate burden on marginalized groups, and how paying unexpected bills or paying for out-of-network care adds increased hardship to low-income communities.

Sen. Menendez has long led efforts to increase the number of mental health providers and tackle the growing mental health crisis affecting young people across the country. In previous Senate Finance Committee hearings, Sen. Menendez has noted the mental health disparity that exists in communities of color and sought answers on how the government can better target resources for minority youth and ensure health care and child care providers are equipped to handle these unique challenges.

The Senator is the author of the Pursuing Equity in Mental Health Act, which would address growing issues of suicide and mental health facing young people, particularly in socially and economically disadvantaged communities that have disproportionately faced disparities in access to mental health treatment and outcomes before and during the COVID-19 pandemic. Last year, the Senator held a youth mental health roundtable with students, advocates, and health care professionals to discuss the rise of youth mental health issues, which has only been exacerbated by the pandemic.

Jay Edwards

Born and raised in Northwest NJ, Jay has a degree in Communications and has had a life-long interest in local radio and various styles of music. Jay has held numerous jobs over the years such as stunt car driver, bartender, voice-over artist, traffic reporter (award winning), NY Yankee maintenance crewmember and peanut farm worker. His hobbies include mountain climbing, snowmobiling, cooking, performing stand-up comedy and he is an avid squirrel watcher. Jay has been a guest on America’s Morning Headquarters,program on The Weather Channel, and was interviewed by Sam Champion.

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