House approves landmark bill authored by Murphy to reform nation’s mental health care network

The House of Representatives approved legislation on Wednesday that U.S. Rep. Tim Murphy (R-PA) authored to bring the most significant reforms to the nation’s mental health care network in 50 years.

The Helping Families in Mental Health Crisis Act, H.R. 2646, which had bipartisan support from 207 cosponsors, would direct federal resources toward evidence-based care, addressing a shortage in psychiatric hospital beds, empowering caregivers and bringing accountability to mental health spending.

“This historic vote closes a tragic chapter in our nation’s treatment of serious mental illness and welcomes a new dawn of help and hope,” Murphy said. “We are ending the era of stigma. Mental illness is no longer a joke, considered a moral defect and a reason to throw people in jail. No longer will we discharge the mentally ill out of the emergency room to the family and say ‘Good luck, take care of your loved one, we’ve done all the law will allow.’ (On Wednesday), the House voted to deliver treatment before tragedy.”

Following the 2012 tragedy at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut, Murphy, a licensed psychologist, led a multi-year effort to reform the nation’s mental health care network and to provide tools to caregivers of those in mental health crisis.

“To every family member, the tens of thousands who reached out to me, who stepped forward to share their story and be a voice for change, my deepest gratitude for your courageous stand to help families in mental health crisis,” Murphy said.

U.S. Rep. Marsha Blackburn (R-TN), the vice chairwoman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, said that while one in five Americans face mental illness, the current state of mental health care has left many behind.

“This legislation will fix the shortage of beds in our mental health facilities, expand the mental health workforce, empower parents and caregivers and help fund evidence-based care,” Blackburn said. “Furthermore, it prioritizes suicide prevention and will authorize the Suicide Prevention Hotline for the very first time. It’s past time those suffering receive treatment before tragedy.”

Under the bill, the number of mental health beds for those with an acute mental health crisis would be increased, the mental health workforce would be expanded, and mental health services would be bolstered in rural and underserved populations.

U.S. Rep. Susan Brooks (R-IN) said that people struggling with mental illness have been failed for the last 50 years because such diseases have been shrouded in stigma, families have been shut out of treatment and care options have been limited.

“Our jails and emergency rooms are overflowing with people in need of mental health care, and there is a shortage of options and beds for people struggling with serious mental illness,” Brooks said. “The way we approach mental health care has to change, and this bill shifts support to evidence-based treatment and care methods that will work better for people struggling with mental illness and their families while expanding access to treatment to those who live in rural areas or underserved communities using innovative technologies to connect doctors to patients. These reforms are long overdue, and I will continue to work to ensure that mental health is a priority in Congress.”    

U.S. Rep. Carlos Curbelo (R-FL), another cosponsor of the bill, said that House passage was an “important and absolutely necessary step” toward improving the mental health of Americans across the country.

“The government currently spends $130 billion on mental health programs,” Curbelo said. “Despite this, families struggle to find the help that they need and deserve. This bill works to streamline the overly complicated mental health system by reallocating funds towards programs that work to diagnose and treat Americans that are severely affected by depression and other mental health issues. Too many Americans go undiagnosed, which can lead to greater problems later on in life. By redistributing funds towards areas like early intervention, prevention, and behavioral care programs, as well as providing additional psychiatric hospital beds, we are one step closer to fixing our nation’s failing mental health system. I thank Rep. Tim Murphy for his leadership on this topic, and am pleased to see it pass the House today.”

U.S. Rep. Leonard Lance (R-NJ), an original cosponsor of the bill, noted in floor remarks that he and other original sponsors of the bill called on Congress in 2013 to address a system in which millions of Americans who suffer everyday are often “pushed into the shadows.”

“Two-and-one-half years later I am proud that the House stands poised today to pass the most significant reform to our nation’s mental health programs in decades,” Lance said. “This bill also includes provisions I championed to help provide early detection to eating disorders and improve access to treatment coverage. This is a historic achievement as it marks the first time Congress has addressed eating disorders specifically through legislation.”

U.S. Rep. Fred Upton (R-MI), the chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, said that mental health care is an issue that affects every community and many families.

“For far too long, mental health was a subject left in the shadows,” Upton said. “Thankfully, that’s no longer the case. Our bipartisan bill will save lives, aid families, and provide comfort and relief to those struggling with mental health issues. It is a strong bill that both Republicans and Democrats can be proud of. Our work will make a real difference and deliver meaningful reforms to families in mental health crisis here in Michigan and all across the country.”  

U.S. Rep. Andy Barr (R-KY) added that the bill represents the most significant step to improve mental health care in decades.

“This legislation represents the most significant reform to our nation’s mental health programs in decades, and would create a new assistant secretary for mental health and substance use to help coordinate mental health programs across the federal government, as well as other significant reforms to mental health programs,” Barr said.

Following House approval of the Helping Families in Mental Health Crisis Act, U.S. Sen. Bill Cassidy (R-LA) said that an important step had been taken toward expanding treatment and prevention programs for the 44 million Americans who battle mental illness.

“The bill voted on (Wednesday) isn’t perfect, but the fact that it passed overwhelmingly is proof that there is broad, bipartisan support for fixing our broken mental health system,” Cassidy said. “We have been partners in this effort since day one, and with our Mental Health Reform Act ready for a vote, we urge Senate leaders to take action and make this issue a priority before the 114th Congress comes to an end.”

Cassidy co-authored the Mental Health Reform Act, S.1945, which would expand resources and improve coordination for mental health and substance abuse treatment programs.

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