Murphy reintroduces landmark mental health bill; expert encourages Congress to go further in helping the seriously ill

U.S. Rep. Tim Murphy (R-PA) reintroduced legislation on Saturday that aims to break down federal barriers to mental health care, clarify privacy standards and reform outdated programs.

The Helping Families in Mental Health Crisis Act, H.R. 2646, which was introduced by Murphy and U.S. Rep. Eddie Bernice Johnson (D-TX), would also expand parity accountability and invest in services that advance evidence-based mental health care.

“It is not just a new bill, but marks a new dawn for mental health care in America. We are moving mental health care from crisis response to recovery, and from tragedy to triumph,” Murphy said. “I am tremendously proud of the work we’ve accomplished and so encouraged about our nationwide grassroots support involved in advancing our legislative vision to help families in mental health crisis.”

Murphy, the chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations and a psychologist with three decades of experience, first introduced the bill in 2013 after holding a series of hearings on the nation’s mental health system.

Under the bill, a National Mental Health Laboratory would be established to help drive innovative models of mental health care and to develop evidence-based standards for grant programs.

“The people of this country deserve piece of mind regarding the treatment of family members within our mental health system,” Johnson said. “It is my belief that this level of contentment can be achieved through successful passage of the Helping Families In Mental Crisis Act. Through the language outlined in this bill, families will have access to the mental health care needed to help those in crisis. I am proud to support legislative efforts which make this a reality.”

The bill would also take steps to improve the transition of one level of mental health care to another, fix a shortage of crisis mental health beds, and promote tele-psychiatry to link pediatricians and primary care doctors to psychiatrists and psychologists in areas where there is limited access to care.

U.S. Rep. Fred Upton (R-MI), the chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, has scheduled a full committee markup of the bill next week.

“Next week we’ll mark a critical milestone in the multi-year effort to begin to deliver meaningful bipartisan reforms for families in mental health crisis,” Upton and Murphy said in a joint statement. “We are making great strides on achieving long sought reforms by removing barriers to care, creating an assistant secretary for mental health and substance use disorders, and transforming how Substance Abuse and Mental Health Administration (SAMHSA) grant dollars are spent. For too long, families have struggled to find care for their loved ones with mental illness, and this legislation will begin to deliver the needed reforms. Our work continues next week, and we look forward to a big vote followed by consideration by the full House.”

Delivering evidence-based treatment will help conquer the stigma surrounding mental illness, Upton and Murphy added.

In a statement to the Ripon Advance and in a recent National Review op-ed, D.J. Jaffe, executive director of the non-partisan Mental Illness Policy Org., praised the rewrite as “well-intentioned,” but suggested that the new version ignores ineffective current federal spending unearthed by Murphy during his multi-year investigation. 

Jaffe suggested that two federal agencies, SAMHSA and the Center for Mental Health Services (CMHS), are particularly egregious in diverting current federal mental health funds from assisting the seriously mentally ill. Jaffe said that the agencies have “moved away from a science-based system and serving people with serious mental illness” to a focus on addressing “trauma,” such as losing a loved one, and mental “resiliency,” as well as “promoting prevention in spite of the fact that there is no known way to prevent serious mental illnesses such as schizophrenia and bipolar disorder.”
Lack of reforms to SAMHSA and CMHS is one reason why Jaffe said that the rewritten bill “throws money at mental health but does little for people with serious mental illness.”  

“What’s required is for Congress to focus already-existing funding streams on treating the most seriously ill, instead of using them to improve mental wellness in all others,” Jaffe said. “It is the untreated seriously ill — not the worried well — who need help the most.”

More Articles About Tim Murphy
More Articles About Healthcare