Lawmakers introducing a new mental health reform bill Tuesday said it would increase access to mental health services and help enforce insurance coverage parity.
Sens. Bill Cassidy (R-La.) and Chris Murphy (D-Conn.) said the Mental Health Reform Act of 2015 is a companion bill to a revised House bill brought forth last month by Reps. Tim Murphy (R-Pa.) and Eddie Bernice Johnson (D-Texas).
Cassidy said he and Chris Murphy, both members of the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions, have received assurances from committee leadership that the bill would move forward.
The bill, which has yet to invoke early criticism, creates an assistant secretary for mental health and substance abuse disorders within HHS who would oversee mental health services across the federal system. That person would be appointed by the president and approved by the Senate.
The bill would award grants to encourage states to integrate physical and mental health services and grants to help states focus on early intervention of children as young as 3. It would also clarify regulations under the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act regarding mental health patients and help educate family, patients and doctors on what the regulations mean.
Cassidy said the bill does not yet have a score from the Congressional Budget Office but it doesn't need a lot of funding.
Chris Murphy said the previous efforts show the bill could actually ease costs.
“We'll have to address the cost issue but we can certainly say this bill will likely save a lot more money than it costs,” he said.
Mary Giliberti, executive director of the National Alliance on Mental Illness, said her organization is supporting the bill because she gets calls and e-mails daily from people who are desperate for access to care for themselves or a family member.
“We need a national solution to what is a national problem,” she said.
Giliberti, who worked as a section chief within HHS' Office for Civil Rights, said having an assistant secretary help coordinate mental health services at the federal level will make a positive difference because it will add weight to the relevant policies and programs.
Dr. Saul Levin, CEO and Medical Director of the American Psychiatric Association, said the bill would help the millions of Americans who suffer from mental illness as well as their families.
“This legislation I think really helps us step up,” he said.
Murphy said improved access to mental health care would come from more psychiatric beds because of some changes to how hospitals are reimbursed for them and by creating different pathways for doctors to specialize in mental health care," Levin added.