Thursday, November 5, 2015

Milestone Reached as Subcommittee Passes Comprehensive MH Reform Bill

A House subcommittee yesterday passed the Helping Families in Mental Health Crisis Act of 2015 (HR 2646), a major step on the road to comprehensive mental health reform.

“We are very pleased by Wednesday night’s passage of HR 2646 by the House Energy and Commerce Health Subcommittee,” said APA President RenĂ©e Binder, M.D., in a statement. “This bill goes a long way in addressing the shortcomings of our nation’s broken mental health system.”

The bill, which is cosponsored by 117 Republicans and 45 Democrats, includes provisions to expand options for care, boost Medicaid funding for mental health services, augment the mental health workforce, and increase the number of inpatient psychiatric beds. The bill would also overturn existing restrictions preventing Medicaid from paying for same-day general and mental health care and from covering care at psychiatric facilities with more than 16 beds.

Additionally, HR 2646 contains many top-tier APA priorities, including these:

* A number of meaningful psychiatric workforce development provisions.
* Provisions related to enforcement of the landmark Mental Health Parity and Addiction Equity Act.
* Enhanced authorized funding for research activities within NIMH.
* Stronger coordination of federal mental health resources across departments and agencies, and requirements for mental health clinician leadership at the highest levels.

Rep. Murphy’s “amendment in the nature of a substitute” (AINS) included a number of modifications and refinements to the bill that he originally introduced in June in response to concerns of some committee Democrats and outside stakeholders. For example:

* The AINS added language to make it more clear that states would receive a bonus for having Assisted Outpatient Treatment (AOT) programs and states would not be penalized for not adopting AOT.
* The AINS considerably streamlined HR 2646’s proposed Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) provision.

While the vote was bipartisan, most committee Democrats voted against the bill. The 18-12 vote reflected concerns by Democrats about several points in the bill, including changes in HIPAA that they fear would reduce privacy protections and the potentially coercive effects of incentives for states to pass AOT laws.

“APA would like to thank Rep. Tim Murphy, Rep. Eddie Bernice Johnson, and the 161 other cosponsors of this important legislation,” said APA CEO and Medical Director Saul Levin, M.D., M.P.A. “This bill has broad bipartisan support because members of both parties realize now is the time to fix our nation’s mental health system.”

No date has been set yet for the full committee to consider the bill.

“We will continue to work with our partners and with members on both sides of the aisle to pass this legislation in the House,” added Binder. “We encourage the full committee to act on this bill soon.”

For more in Psychiatric News about the Helping Families in Mental Health Crisis Act of 2015, see “APA Joins in Push to Advance MH Legislation Through Congress.”

(Image: Joe Ravi/Shutterstock)


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