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House Subcommittee Approves Amended Helping Families in Mental Health Crisis Act

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Rebecca Farley

Director, Policy & Advocacy, National Council for Behavioral Health

House Subcommittee Approves Amended Helping Families in Mental Health Crisis Act

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Lawmakers on a key health subcommittee yesterday approved amendments to Representative Tim Murphy’s Helping Families in Mental Health Crisis Act, sending the bill on to consideration by the full House Energy and Commerce Committee.

The amended version of the bill softened some provisions that had generated controversy in the mental health field; yet, it also removed several critical bipartisan priorities. Among the provisions that were removed were a two-year, two-state expansion of the Excellence in Mental Health Act, a provision allowing behavioral health providers to receive federal incentive for health IT adoption, and a repeal of the 190-day Medicare lifetime limit on psychiatric hospitalization. Policies that would spend new federal dollars have repeatedly encountered opposition from fiscal conservatives in Congress.

In a win for integrated care providers, the amended bill preserved language establishing clarity in Medicaid billing for mental and physical health services provided on the same day. It also preserved language authorizing grants for mental health awareness training for police officers and school personnel.

Of critical concern for the National Council was new language that would permit the mingling of Substance Abuse Prevention and Treatment Block Grant funds with Mental Health Block Grant funds. Such a move could undermine states’ capacity for targeted addiction prevention, treatment and recovery activities at a time when the nation faces a major addiction crisis. Rep. Susan Brooks (R-IN) offered an amendment to strike this new language, but withdrew her amendment with a promise from Rep. Murphy that he would work with her and other concerned lawmakers on this issue moving forward.

National Council for Behavioral Health President & CEO Linda Rosenberg issued the following statement on the amended bill:

America is in dire need of additional mental health and addiction treatment investment. Demand for services is higher than ever, yet our nation’s treatment system has been crippled by decades of funding cuts. As a result, each year, 60 percent of Americans living with mental illness and 90 percent of those with addiction don’t get the care they need.

The National Council thanks the House Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Health for its attention to these important issues. We have worked closely with members of Congress on both sides of the aisle and on both sides of the Capitol to generate meaningful reforms that build strong community treatment networks, support individuals who are trying to change their lives, and preserve public health and safety. We thank Representative Murphy—along with Senators Blunt, Stabenow and Ayotte, Representatives Matsui, Lance, and Jenkins, and other congressional mental health champions from both parties—for their willingness to infuse desperately needed federal funding into our struggling mental health and addiction system.

We were grateful to see the Subcommittee’s adoption of several long-sought bipartisan priorities, including a Medicaid billing clarification that will support integrated health care and authorization of grants to support mental health awareness training for police officers and school personnel.

However, we were disappointed to see that the latest revision to the Helping Families in Mental Health Crisis Act does not include other key bipartisan reform proposals, such as expanding the 2014 Excellence in Mental Health Act or incentivizing behavioral health providers to adopt electronic health records. These proposals would expand treatment system capacity and improve our ability to provide coordinated, high-quality care to every American in need. They were included in the original version of the Helping Families in Mental Health Crisis Act and have a long history of bipartisan legislative support in both chambers.

We are also disappointed that critical provisions to bolster Americans’ access to substance use and mental health care were removed. We support repealing the 190-day lifetime limit on Medicare psychiatric hospitalization, another provision that unfortunately was removed yesterday from the Helping Families in Mental Health Crisis Act.

We are also concerned about the bill’s new provision allowing the mingling of funds from the Substance Abuse Prevention and Treatment Block Grant with the Mental Health Block Grant. Both block grants serve important functions in the lives of people with mental health and substance use disorders; neither should be diluted to pay for services provided by the other.

We recognize that Members of Congress face a difficult funding environment; yet, reform of our overburdened and underfunded mental health and addiction system cannot succeed if it does not address the funding shortfall that is jeopardizing the health of the nation.

It is time to close the gaps in the nation’s safety net and reinvest in community-based mental health and addiction care. We look forward to working with Chairman Upton, Ranking Member Pallone, Subcommittee Chairman Pitts, Ranking Member Green, and Representative Murphy to restore these critical provisions as the bill moves on to consideration at the full committee level.

The amended Helping Families in Mental Health Crisis Act will now move to consideration by the full House Energy and Commerce Committee, where a markup and vote have not yet been scheduled.