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Negotiations Underway to Reconcile Rival Behavioral Health Bills

Capitol Connector
Your source for the latest updates from Capitol Hill. We translate policy into practice so you can learn how policy trends will affect your work and how best to prepare.

Rebecca Farley

Director, Policy & Advocacy, National Council for Behavioral Health

Negotiations Underway to Reconcile Rival Behavioral Health Bills

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The lead sponsors of rival behavioral health reform bills are meeting to negotiate a deal that may have a chance of moving forward in Congress this year.

Congressmen Tim Murphy (R-PA) and Ron Barber (D-AZ) led a bipartisan group of legislators in meeting last Tuesday to identify where the two bills have common ground and discuss the framework for a consensus package. The National Council applauds these efforts to generate forward momentum on much-needed reforms to the mental health and substance use treatment systems.

Murphy’s bill, the Helping Families in Mental Health Crisis Act (H.R. 3717), was introduced earlier this year after a series of hearings Murphy held in the wake of the tragic 2012 Newtown shooting. His legislation, with 92 Republican and Democratic cosponsors, touches on a range of issues in the mental healthcare system, from privacy and commitment laws to health information technology and prescription drug coverage under Medicare.

Barber’s bill, the Strengthening Mental Health in Our Communities Act (H.R. 4574), shares a number of common elements with H.R. 3717 but does not include those provisions from the Murphy bill that have drawn fire from consumer advocates. It currently has 52 Democratic cosponsors.

The Barber legislation includes the Mental Health First Aid Act, which the National Council supports. Both the Barber and Murphy bills include other longstanding priorities of the National Council, such as the Behavioral Health Information Technology Act, a clarification to Medicaid statue regarding billing for mental and primary healthcare services on the same day, and language strengthening the six protected drug classes (which include antidepressants and antipsychotics) under Medicare.

Recognizing that neither bill is likely to move forward on its own this year, the two Congressmen have expressed optimism that they may be able to reach an agreement on which provisions have enough support to advance now and which should be set aside for later consideration. “This isn’t fluff,” Murphy said of last week’s bipartisan conversations. Barber called the meeting an “important first step,” saying, “I think we have a chance” to move a consensus bill forward.

The National Council strongly supports the inclusion of the Mental Health First Aid Act and Behavioral Health IT Act in any compromise package. With other national groups, we are hosting two upcoming congressional briefings in July to educate staff and legislators about these important issues and their impact on the behavioral health field.

There is still a long uphill road ahead. Lawmakers must still write up what they discussed last week and go through the bill drafting process before a committee hearing can be held. The National Council remains hopeful that there will be more movement on behavioral health legislation this year. We will continue to keep you updated on the latest developments through emails and our Capitol Connector newsletter.