Rep. Tim Murphy to Unveil Mental-Health Reform

Proposals include reducing HIPAA barriers, increasing inpatient beds, and establishing assisted outpatient treatment.

National Journal
Clara Ritger
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Clara Ritger
Dec. 12, 2013, 4:13 a.m.

Rep. Tim Murphy, R-Pa., on Thursday is in­tro­du­cing le­gis­la­tion aimed at im­prov­ing ac­cess to men­tal-health re­sources, part of an ef­fort to stop pa­tients strug­gling with men­tal ill­ness from in­flict­ing harm on them­selves and those around them.

While not all people with ser­i­ous men­tal ill­nesses are vi­ol­ent, men­tal ill­ness has been a factor is sev­er­al re­cent high-pro­file shoot­ings: Adam Lanza at New­town, Conn., James Holmes at Au­rora, Colo., and Aaron Alex­is at the Navy Yard in Wash­ing­ton.

Moreover, lack of ac­cess to re­sources re­mains a bar­ri­er for fam­il­ies with chil­dren of all types of men­tal ill­ness. Some 11 mil­lion Amer­ic­ans have severe schizo­phrenia, bi­polar dis­order, or ma­jor de­pres­sion, and an es­tim­ated 26.2 per­cent of all Amer­ic­ans have a dia­gnos­able men­tal dis­order in any giv­en year.

The Af­ford­able Care Act ex­pands ac­cess to men­tal-health ser­vices by re­quir­ing in­surers to treat it equal to oth­er forms of health care in terms of cost and cov­er­age. Murphy’s bill is the res­ult of a year­long in­vest­ig­a­tion in­to Amer­ica’s “broken men­tal health sys­tem” and the dis­cov­ery that sys­tem­ic is­sues sty­mie ac­cess to care, a seni­or aide said.

“The re­cep­tion that he’s got­ten from col­leagues is that they’re ready,” the aide said.

Be­fore com­ing to Wash­ing­ton, Murphy spent three dec­ades as a psy­cho­lo­gist. Among the meas­ures in Murphy’s Help­ing Fam­il­ies in Men­tal Health Crisis Act—which will be un­veiled Thursday—are re­forms to the HIPAA laws that pre­vent doc­tors from speak­ing with par­ents of adult chil­dren suf­fer­ing from men­tal ill­nesses and in­creased ac­cess to in­pa­tient beds for the most severely men­tally ill. It would also cre­ate be­ha­vi­or­al aware­ness pro­grams for teens in an ef­fort to re­duce the stigma sur­round­ing men­tal-health dis­orders.

The bill seeks to es­tab­lish court-ordered “as­sisted out­pa­tient treat­ment” as an al­tern­at­ive to in­pa­tient care, im­prove qual­ity and ac­cess to care at com­munity health cen­ters, pro­tect cer­tain classes of drugs so that Medi­caid and Medi­care pa­tients can re­ceive them, and ad­vance telemedi­cine so that rur­al pa­tients can con­nect with psy­chi­at­rists and psy­cho­lo­gists in met­ro­pol­it­an areas.

Ad­min­is­trat­ively, the bill cre­ates the po­s­i­tion of as­sist­ant sec­ret­ary for men­tal health at the Health and Hu­man Ser­vices De­part­ment to fo­cus more re­sources on in­nov­a­tion in care at the Na­tion­al In­sti­tute for Men­tal Health and com­munity health cen­ters. It au­thor­izes NIMH to pur­sue the “BRAIN ini­ti­at­ive,” Pres­id­ent Obama’s goal to map every neur­on in the hu­man brain. It also works with the Justice De­part­ment to reau­thor­ize men­tal-health courts, and in­creases con­gres­sion­al over­sight of all fed­er­al be­ha­vi­or­al grants at the Sub­stance Ab­use and Men­tal Health Ser­vices Ad­min­is­tra­tion.

DJ Jaffe—ex­ec­ut­ive dir­ect­or of Men­tal Ill­ness Policy Org, an agency that ad­voc­ates for treat­ment for the ser­i­ously men­tally ill—said he’s sup­port­ive of many of Murphy’s pro­pos­als, in­clud­ing chan­ging HIPAA laws, cre­at­ing as­sisted out­pa­tient treat­ment, and in­creas­ing in­pa­tient beds.

The bill will be form­ally in­tro­duced at 9:45 a.m. in the House Ra­dio-Tele­vi­sion Cor­res­pond­ents’ Gal­lery.

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