Wednesday, June 17, 2015

Capitol Hill Hearing Underscores Urgent Need for Mental Health Reform

The Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Health held a hearing yesterday on landmark legislation that would reform the U.S. mental health system.

The bill, HR 2646 (Helping Families in Mental Health Crisis Act), is cosponsored by U.S. Reps. Tim Murphy (R-Pa.) and Eddie Bernice Johnson (D-Texas). It builds on previous legislation put forward by both representatives.

Notably, the bill creates the position of Assistant Secretary for Mental Health and Substance Use Disorders, who must be a psychiatrist or Ph.D. clinical psychologist, within the Department of Health and Human Services to elevate the importance of mental health in that agency, coordinate mental health and related programs across different agencies, promote effective evidence-based programs, and ensure compliance with the mental health parity law.

Much of yesterday's discussion hovered around HIPAA and whether that law prevents clinicians from giving families information about the diagnosis, treatment, or appointment scheduling of relatives with mental illnesses. HR 2646 would allow disclosure in some circumstances of health information covered by the privacy rule to families or caregivers when it is in the best interests of a patient who lacks decisional capacity.

This was indeed a gray area for clinicians, said former APA President Jeffrey Lieberman, M.D. (pictured above). “Doctors fear lawsuits, and it will take more than education to solve this problem.”

Speaking in favor of the bill, Lieberman pointed out that "mental health care involves disease management, not handing out a pill. It is hard to provide because we lack co-location of services and a coherent funding stream. The tools for care are available, but we have to develop the policies to implement them. We need a big-picture approach."

"Severe mental illness is a brain disorder, and it has to be seen and treated for what it is," said Joe Pitts (R-Pa.), subcommittee chair. "This bill is comprehensive and is a big first step and makes substantial changes."

Overall, further collaboration on the bill should maintain a focus on the needs of patients, Murphy concluded. “We’ll keep working together.”

For more information on HR 2646, go to Rep. Murphy's website; also, see "APA Applauds U.S. Reps. Murphy and Johnson for Reintroducing Comprehensive Mental Health Reform Legislation."

(aml/Image: Aaron Levin)


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