A Senate committee easily passed a mental health reform bill along with four smaller measures addressing prescription drug abuse Wednesday, but funding for implementing the programs remains elusive.
The Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pension Committee advanced the Mental Health Reform Act, which updates state block grants, encourages the use of evidence-based practices to treat mental illness and works to improve access to such services.
It also creates a new administrative position at the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration and clarifies privacy laws so that caregivers and parents can receive information about the treatment of children and young adults.
Sen. Chris Murphy (D-Conn.) said he is glad to see the bill moving to the Senate floor, even though the committee doesn't have the jurisdiction over funding it. He said he hopes the parties can continue to work together to find resources to address the lack of patient capacity.
“But this is an incredibly important bipartisan foundation with which we can work,” he said.
Earlier this month, the Senate passed the Comprehensive Addiction and Recovery Act to improve treatment for opioid overuse in a similarly strong bipartisan fashion. It also, however, lacked any appropriations the Democrats hoped to see.
The other bills advanced Wednesday would allow doctors to prescribe more medication for treating opioid addiction and would create guidelines for co-prescribing overdose reversal drugs with opioids. The bill would make it easier for people to obtain medication to treat opioid addiction by eventually getting rid of patient limits for some physicians and allowing qualified midlevel providers to prescribe the medicine.
Committee members were loath to trip up the bipartisan voice votes with amendments, but did discuss some ideas they intend to pursue as the legislation is further considered.
Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine) said Medicaid's exclusion of reimbursement for some residential mental health services is also a strong concern.
“It is stunning to me that in this day and age we do not treat mental illness in the same way that we treat physical illness,” she said.
Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.) said he would like to help behavioral health providers establish electronic health record systems. Other proposals included allowing for partial filling of opioid prescriptions and strengthening mental health parity laws.