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Peers present the case for peer support services on Capitol Hill

May 01, 2015

Truly authentic “firsts” are extremely rare in D.C. To experience two in a single day is amazing beyond the pale. Yet, that is exactly what happened on Wednesday, April 29. That day, the Depression and Bipolar Support Alliance—DBSA—hosted one Congressional Briefing for the House and another for the Senate. Never before has a peer group ever hosted even a single Congressional Briefing, let alone two. Just marvelous!

The purpose of these briefings was to offer a very convincing case for peer support services. This case is extremely strong: Both personal reflection and research evidence document the effectiveness of these services; good training is available to teach required skills; and the need for these services is very large and growing every day with the implementation of the Affordable Care Act. One could not present a more convincing case about anything.

Led by Alan Doederlein, President of DBSA, the presentation panel included Olga Wuerz, a certified peer support specialist who provides support services in a large VA facility; Larry Davidson, from Yale, who presented the research evidence; Lisa Goodale, DBSA Vice President and Director of Training, who described the skills taught through a one-week course; Tom Lane, from Magellan, and me, who described implementation in private and public settings.

Peer support services bring hope and the promise of recovery. They help to overcome social isolation and the fear of stigma. And they can even help to restore a productive life in the community. Yet even more eye opening, none of this existed prior to the turn of the century.

Peer support services can help lead a person to care, improve care engagement, and promote earlier recovery. They also can help to foster good health literacy and personal activation to improve self-management skills over a lifetime.

The Affordable Care Act already has increased private health insurance enrollment by about 11.7 million through the state Health Insurance Marketplaces, and by about 6 million more through the state Medicaid Expansions. Of the former, about a quarter of the enrollees have a behavioral health condition; among the latter, fully 40%.  This translates into more than 5 million potential new consumers for a behavioral health care system that already is laboring to meet the needs of current participants. Thus, peer support services are an exceptionally welcome new resource—in my words, priceless!

Yet, today, only 37 states fund peer support services as part of their state Medicaid Plans. The Briefings were a clarion call to action to increase this number to 50 as soon as possible. All participants agreed that this recommendation is fundamental for future progress.

Our hats are off to Alan Doederlein, Phyllis Foxworth, DBSA Communication Director, and the entire DBSA team for exceptional performances on Capitol Hill. I have no doubt that their message was heard loudly and received warmly by the congressional staff members who participated.

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