AHA today voiced support for the Improving Access to Emergency Psychiatric Care Act (S. 599), bipartisan legislation to extend the Medicaid Emergency Psychiatric Demonstration Program. The legislation would extend the demonstration through September 2016 or whenever the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services completes its final evaluation of the project, whichever occurs first, as long as the extension would not increase Medicaid costs. It also would allow HHS to extend the demonstration project, set to expire this year, for an additional three years and to other states, subject to the same budget-neutrality standard. Created by Congress in 2010, the demonstration provides up to $75 million to cover Medicaid patients aged 21 to 64 for emergency psychiatric care provided at freestanding psychiatric hospitals with more than 16 beds. The demo is currently operating in 11 states and the District of Columbia. “Because of Medicaid’s critical role in covering individuals with mental illness, your legislation holds promise for easing the strain on community hospitals and improving access to quality psychiatric care for this underserved and vulnerable population,” wrote AHA Executive Vice President Rick Pollack in a letter of support to Sen. Benjamin Cardin (D-MD). The National Association of Psychiatric Health Systems, which is holding its annual meeting this week in Washington, D.C., also supports the bill.