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Rebecca Farley

Director, Policy & Advocacy, National Council for Behavioral Health

Congressman Tim Murphy Re-introduces Mental Health Reform Bill

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Representatives Tim Murphy (R-PA) and Eddie Bernice Johnson (D-TX) have reintroduced their bipartisan legislation enacting comprehensive reforms to the U.S. mental health delivery system. The Helping Families in Mental Health Crisis Act (H.R. 2646) was first introduced in 2013; the legislation is the culmination of an ongoing series of hearings Murphy has held as chair of the House Energy and Commerce Oversight and Investigations Committee in the wake of the tragic 2012 Newtown shooting.

“It is not just a new bill, but marks a new dawn for mental health care in America. We are moving mental health care from crisis response to recovery, and from tragedy to triumph,” said Murphy. “I am tremendously proud of the work we’ve accomplished and so encouraged about our nationwide grassroots support involved in advancing our legislative vision to help families in mental health crisis.”

The National Council applauded the bill’s inclusion of a two-year, two-state expansion of the Excellence in Mental Health Act demonstration, writing in a letter to Murphy that the Excellence Act will “make an enormous contribution to expanding access to evidence-based community healthcare for children and adults with serious and persistent mental illnesses.” Our letter also thanked Murphy for his inclusion of the Behavioral Health IT Act, another National Council legislative priority. By allowing mental health and substance abuse treatment facilities to receive incentive payments for their use of electronic health records, the Behavioral Health IT Act will help improve care quality and the integration of behavioral and primary care services.

The bill, which spans nearly 180 pages, touches on many parts of the mental health system. Some of its provisions have been long supported by the National Council, such as:

  • Clarification that health care providers may bill Medicaid for mental health and primary care services provided to the same patient on the same day;
  • A provision strengthening the “six protected classes” language in Medicare Part D and extending mental health prescription drug protections to Medicaid;
  • Provisions to strengthen federal oversight of parity enforcement;
  • Modifications to inpatient psychiatric hospital discharge planning to ensure better coordination with outpatient providers; and
  • Authorization of grants for crisis intervention trainings for law enforcement officers, and for mental health education and awareness in educational settings.

The bill also retains or modifies some provisions that generated controversy during its last iteration; for example, it includes proposed changes to SAMHSA funding and program authorizations, changes to the Mental Health Block Grant, new funding for assisted outpatient treatment (also known as involuntary outpatient commitment), and changes to the federal HIPAA privacy law. The introduction of the bill is the first step in a long process of discussion, debate, and potential future hearings or votes.