Washington, D.C. – In a Finance Committee hearing on February 24th, U.S. Senator Catherine Cortez Masto (D-Nev.) discussed her health care priorities with California Attorney General Xavier Becerra, President Biden’s nominee for Secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS). She also secured commitments from the nominee if confirmed to secure continuity of health care coverage for laid off and furloughed workers and to speak with the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs about improvements to the long-underfunded Indian Health Services.
The Senator praised key provisions of the American Rescue Plan for the support they offer to Nevadans during the coronavirus pandemic, including that plan’s subsidies for COBRA coverage for unemployed or furloughed workers. She continued, “I’d like to focus on the COBRA subsidies that will be a lifeline for out-of-work Nevadans. Nevada’s tourism-driven economy was devastated by the coronavirus. The losses suffered by our gaming and hospitality sectors have taken a toll on hardworking families across the Silver State. . . . COBRA subsidies are especially critical because they are key to preserving the benefits that union workers have fought for. They’re essential to protecting coverage for whole families and ensuring access to their doctors and specialists.” Senator Cortez Masto asked whether she could count on Attorney General Becerra’s help in protecting these benefits.
Attorney General Becerra responded, “You have my commitment, because you’re talking about providing a continuity of coverage for people who are working and oftentimes had their coverage because of their work or through their union. Through no fault of their own now they find themselves in these conditions, and so absolutely you have my commitment to work with you on this.”
Senator Cortez Masto went on to address the issue of the significant mental health burdens of the pandemic, and noted, “We made a huge effort last year to incorporate funding for mental health support in the various coronavirus packages, but let me just say this: block grants and patchwork funding are no way to sustain the mental health infrastructure that the nation needs over the long term. . . . That’s why I’ve been working on legislation that builds on Senator Wyden’s CAHOOTS Act to bolster behavioral health crisis response services across the country. It integrates Senator Stabenow’s [proposed expansion of] Certified Community Behavioral Health Clinics. And so I look forward to working with you on this legislation that will build on SAMHSA’s guidelines to create a framework for providing emergency mental health services to individuals in crisis.” She again asked Attorney General Becerra if she could count on his support if confirmed for mental health services.
He responded, “For the reasons you’ve just articulated, I started a disability rights unit at the Department of Justice in California, and I am absolutely looking forward to working with you on these issues.”
Lastly, Senator Cortez Masto said that “I’d like to underscore the imperative that HHS focus on improvements to the Indian Health Services. We’re in bipartisan agreement here in Congress that the Service is in dire need of additional stable funding in order to meet the basic needs of Indian country. Can I get a commitment from you that we can work with you—that you’re willing to even come to the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs and talk to us about how we address and improve upon Indian Health Services in this country?”
Attorney General Becerra responded, “Absolutely, you have that commitment.”
A full video of the hearing can be found here.
Senator Cortez Masto is a steadfast advocate for access to quality, affordable health care, including mental and behavioral health care. She has introduced the CAHOOTS Act with Senator Wyden (D-Ore.), and last Congress she supported the Excellence in Mental Health and Addiction Treatment Expansion Act with Senator Stabenow (D-Mich). In December, Senator Cortez Masto introduced legislation to help give Nevada communities the tools they need to develop and deliver comprehensive behavioral health crisis services. The Behavioral Health Crisis Services Expansion Act would create a continuum of crisis services across the country by directing the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) to define national standards for behavioral health crisis care, expand coverage of mental health services for patients, and provide resources to communities expanding or implementing new behavioral health crisis services to meet local needs. Senator Cortez Masto has also introduced legislation to subsidize COBRA benefits during the coronavirus pandemic.