Rep. Tim Murphy (R-Pa.), along with co-sponsor Rep. Eddie Bernice Johnson (D-Texas), introduced a new version of his 2013 legislation Helping Families in Mental Health Crisis Act, H.R. 2646. Murphy says it would break down barriers to care, clarify privacy standards, expand behavioral health parity and reform outdated programs.
Murphy, a psychologist who chairs the House Energy & Commerce Committee's oversight and investigations subcommittee, has criticized the $130 billion the federal government spends on behavioral health. He has commented how the nation's mental health system is “best described by its deficits” and has noted how the nation's three largest mental health facilities are the Los Angeles, Cook County and Rikers Island jails in California, Illinois and New York.
After the school shootings in Newtown, Conn., Murphy presented the first version of the bill.
The new version includes a new HHS leadership post, assistant secretary for mental health and substance-abuse disorders, and establishes a national mental health policy laboratory to develop new models of care. It also provides for additional psychiatric hospital beds, promotes telepsychiatry for underserved and rural areas, authorizes an early intervention program for people with or developing schizophrenia, focuses on suicide prevention and incentivizes states to provide alternatives to institutionalization. It would also promote the use of health information technology to better coordinate care with primary-care physicians.
Mark Covall, president and CEO of the Washington-based National Association of Psychiatric Health Systems, applauded Murphy and Johnson for sponsoring the legislation that he said “offers a clear path to save lives, communities and money.”
Specifically, Covall said in a news release that the bill would reform Medicaid policies that prevent adults from getting short-term acute care in psychiatric hospitals while strengthening mental health and addiction parity.
“As Congress actively looks for ways to address the mental health and addiction challenges their communities face, Rep. Murphy has laid out a roadmap for congressional action to address gaps and inequalities,” Covall said in the release. “Mental and addictive disorders are illnesses that need to be treated in the same manner as other medical conditions.”
Mental Health America, an Alexandria, Va.-based mental health advocacy group founded in 1909, opposed the original version of Murphy's bill introduced in 2013. Murphy discussed details at the MHA annual conference Thursday morning before introducing the bill Thursday afternoon.
Paul Gionfriddo, MHA president and CEO, said he is still reviewing the bill, but added that it adds to a positive, growing trend.
“We are at a tipping point where the potential for significant reform of our inadequate mental health system is greater than it has been in a very long time,” Gionfriddo said.
Representatives from the Arlington, Va., and Chicago offices of the National Alliance on Mental Illness said they were still reviewing the measure. NAMI supported the earlier iteration of the bill.
A spokesman for the Bazelon Center for Mental Health Law said Friday that the group was still analyzing Murphy's revised bill. John Heard said it was clear, however, they would still have concerns.
“These elements include tying the hands of protection and advocacy organizations in a way that would prevent them from doing important work on behalf of people with mental illness, promoting increased use of involuntary treatment for people with mental illness, weakening privacy protections for medical records of people with mental illness and crippling the federal Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration,” Heard said.
He added that the bill contains some good proposals, but, “overall, rather than representing mental health reform, this is regression to failed policies of the past.”