Keynote: A conversation with US Senator Debbie Stabenow

At the 2021 Michigan State of Reform Health Policy Conference, US Senator Debbie Stabenow discussed the challenge of a divided Senate, efforts to improve the quality of behavioral health care in the US and the potential for federal Medicare expansion.  


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Stabenow started off our Afternoon Keynote by discussing her continuous work on mental health and addiction services. A program she helped create, the Certified Community Behavioral Health Clinics (CCBHC) Demonstration Program, began in 2017 and had a 2-year demonstration period that differed between the states involved in the program.

Ten states, including Michigan, participated in the demonstration program which provides funding for CCBHCs to provide better care to mental and behavioral health patients. Care includes 24-hour psychiatric emergency departments and a solid workforce. Michigan will start its demonstration period in October 2021. 

According to Stabenow, during the demonstration period there were 63% fewer mental health cases in emergency rooms, 60% fewer mental health patients going to jail and 41% fewer mental health patients becoming homeless in areas near clinics. There are currently 24 certified community behavioral health clinics in Michigan. 

Stabenow is also working on a bill entitled Hallways to Health Care Act which was recently introduced. The bill would provide $200 million in new funding to build up new school-based health centers across the nation to ensure access to physical and behavioral health. Stabenow says the bill would provide funding for all 140 of Michigan’s school-based health centers. 

Stabenow also discussed the challenges of lawmaking in a closely divided Senate. She specifically highlighted the ongoing debate over the filibuster. 

“What people want right now is results, not a bunch of excuses. I think some of the filibuster debate now falls in the category of just excuses and it is not productive anymore. We should have majorities take responsibility for our own vote.”

Stabenow continues to feel hopeful about the direction of the new administration and her colleagues, especially with the passage of the American Rescue Plan Act

“It [The American Rescue Plan Act] was done in a challenging situation, and people stepped up. People are committed and want to move forward. I believe that this is a moment for boldness. We need to seize the moment together.”