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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Democrats in the House are threatening to shut down the government if Republicans expedite a vote on a bill to repeal and replace Obamacare, said Democratic House Whip Steny Hoyer Thursday. Lawmakers have introduced a one-week spending bill to give themselves an extra week to reach a long-term funding deal, which seemed poised to pass easily. However, the White House is pressuring House Republicans to take a vote on their Obamacare replacement Friday to give Trump a legislative victory, though it is still not clear that they have the necessary votes to pass the health care bill. This could go down to the wire.
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