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House Democrats Introduce Mental Health Reform Bill

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Michael Petruzzelli

Policy Associate, National Council for Behavioral Health

House Democrats Introduce Mental Health Reform Bill

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Democratic members of the House Energy and Commerce Committee introduced their own version of mental health reform legislation this week. The bill, which spans nearly 300 pages, touches on many parts of the US mental health system. The bill’s authors said in a statement that their legislation is not meant to compete with Rep. Tim Murphy’s Helping Families in Mental Health Crisis Act (H.R. 2646); instead they said it is intended to push the conversation forward toward compromise and passage.

“It is our shared goal that this legislation advances a larger discussion in Congress and serves as a platform for comprehensive mental health reform,” said co-author of the bill, Congresswoman Doris Matsui (D-CA). “We have worked tirelessly to find compromises that outline a path to reform that provides resources for prevention, as well as crisis care, so that patients have the support they need at whatever stage they are in their illness. I’m particularly pleased that this package contains provisions that I have long advocated for, from clarifying what can and cannot be shared under HIPAA law, to expanding the Excellence in Mental Health demonstration to ensure that more states have an opportunity to benefit from high quality, evidenced-based, and community-driven mental health care.”

Of particular importance to community behavioral health providers, the bill:

  • Permits the Health and Human Services Secretary to extend the Excellence in Mental Health Act demonstration program by three years and to include additional states in the program;
  • Includes the bipartisan Mental Health First Aid Act, which authorizes $20 million for mental health awareness trainings;
  • Authorizes numerous substance abuse prevention, treatment, and recovery initiatives, including:
    • Promotion of opioid reversal drugs like naloxone,
    • Expansion of the number of patients to whom providers can prescribe buprenorphine, and
    • Continuing medical education requirements for practitioners who prescribe opioids for pain;
  • Includes the Behavioral Health IT Act, legislation to extend federal incentive payments for the use of electronic health records to mental health and addiction providers; and
  • Clarifies that health care providers may bill Medicaid for mental health and primary care services provided to the same patient on the same day.

The bill also repeals the 190-day lifetime limit on Medicare psychiatric inpatient treatment; codifies recent guidance permitting managed care companies to provide residential treatment in lieu of other, more intensive services; and strengthens parity enforcement by imposing new disclosure, reporting, and auditing requirements. For a full section-by-section summary of the bill, click here.

Authors of this bill include: Representatives Diana DeGette (D-CO), Gene Green (D-TX), Doris Matsui (D-CA), Paul Tonko (D-NY), David Loebsack (D-IA), and Joseph Kennedy (D-MA).

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