Wherever one stands on the issue of gun violence in America, there’s no disagreement that improved mental health care is a key component in any formula that’s to succeed.
A gun in the hands of an unstable person is, as we have seen repeatedly, a disastrous combination.
On Wednesday, the U.S. House of Representatives passed HR 2646, the Helping Families in Mental Health Crisis Act of 2015, by a vote of 422-2. As important as was the passage itself, was the resoundingly — and refreshingly — bipartisan response. The bill’s sponsor, in fact, was Pennsylvania Republican Tim Murphy.
Among other improvements, this bill amends title XIX — Medicaid — of the Social Security Act to conditionally expand coverage of mental health services.
It also amends the Medicare prescription drug benefit program to require coverage of antidepressant and antipsychotic medication.
And, within certain guidelines, it eliminates Medicare’s 190-day lifetime limit on inpatient psychiatric hospital service.
We’d urge the U.S. Senate now to show the same willingness to act together and pass the bipartisan mental health reform package authored by U.S. Senator Chris Murphy, D-Conn., and U.S. Senator Bill Cassidy, R-La.
They are co-authors of the Mental Health Reform Act and members of the U.S. Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions (HELP) Committee, and they, likewise, have called on the Senate to immediately vote on their bill. The bill passed in their committee earlier this year.
After holding more than a dozen roundtables with mental health professionals, policy experts, consumers, and family members, Murphy and Cassidy introduced the bill with U.S. Senate HELP Committee Chairman Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.) and U.S. Senate HELP Committee Ranking Member Patty Murray (D-Wash.).
Murphy and Cassidy’s bill would expand the federal resources available for and improve the coordination of mental health and substance abuse programs. It also includes a component for early-childhood intervention for at-risk children as young as 3 years old.
It also extends the life of grants and creates new ones for various mental health treatments.
There’s also no disagreement that no one step, no single piece of legislation is going to solve the country’s problem of gun violence.
But at the intersection of mental health issues and the availability of weapons like the AR-15 Bushmaster or the Sig Sauer semi-automatic rifle used in Orlando, is the potential for disaster.
The whole area of mental health remains a challenging one, its definitions and diagnoses often murky. And this leads to a a variety of problems, including a rejection of insurance claims for treatment.
For instance, the rate of denials by the state’s largest managed care insurers of requests for mental health services rose nearly 70 percent between 2013 and 2014, with an average of about one in 12 requests for prescribed treatment initially rejected, according to a report from the Connecticut Insurance Department.
Both in Washington and in Hartford, there’s a lot more lifting to be done to bring mental health treatment options up to where they should be.