WASHINGTON – After months of collaborating with mental health professionals, policy experts, consumers, and family members, U.S. Senator Bill Cassidy (R-La.) and U.S. Senator Chris Murphy (D-Conn.), both members of the U.S. Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee, today introduced new bipartisan legislation to comprehensively overhaul and strengthen America’s mental health care system. The Mental Health Reform Act of 2015 will make critical reforms to address a lack of resources, enhance coordination, and develop meaningful solutions to improve outcomes for families dealing with mental illness.

For too long, the United States and its leaders have neglected mental health and remained silent as millions suffer on the streets, in jails, or linger without treatment. In fact, studies show that approximately 44 million Americans (or 1-in-5 adults) suffer from a serious mental illness, 90% of those who commit suicide each year have an underlying mental illness, and that the mentally ill die an average of 25 years earlier than their peers, often cycling between prisons and homelessness. Annually, serious mental illness costs the United States over $193 billion in lost earnings and productivity. Despite the severe emotional and financial costs associated with mental illness, a needless stigma surrounds the issue and has caused America to shy away from openly discussing simple solutions. The Cassidy-Murphy legislation identifies the weaknesses in our current mental health care delivery system and seeks to reform America’s mental health system so that it meets the needs of all patients.

Cassidy said, “As a doctor and as a person, I know people in my life who are affected by mental illness. We all do—we all have seen the homeless veteran who needs and deserves care, or the person we went to high school with who is missing the reunion because they are struggling with serious mental illness. Many have their first episode of major mental illness between the ages of 15 and 25, starting down a path that ends with their life and their family's lives being tragically altered. This bill attempts to identify these young people and stop that path from ever opening up and preventing the first episode of serious mental illness, or, once identified, to begin a new path, a better path, a path towards wellness. This is about making those individuals, their families and society, who are threatened with serious mental illness, whole.”

“Mental health care in America is in desperate need of an overhaul. Individuals with mental illness who are capable of living healthy, productive lives too often end up homeless or in prison due to lack of adequate care. Children and adults struggling with mental illness may go years without receiving treatment, ultimately suffering in isolation, or cast aside and abandoned by the system,” said Murphy. “We are failing millions of Americans, letting those with serious mental illness slip through the cracks, and a few are resorting to horrific acts of violence when their illness goes untreated. For the most powerful and most affluent country in the world, that is unacceptable, and we have an obligation to fix it.”

Murphy continued, “After holding 11 mental health roundtables all across Connecticut, I’ve listened to mental health advocates, professionals, and patients, and with their help, Senator Cassidy and I have constructed the Mental Health Reform Act. This bill represents a unique opportunity to bring Republicans and Democrats together around a comprehensive reform of our nation’s mental health laws. We look forward to working with our colleagues to get this bill passed and signed into law.”

Mary Giliberti, Executive Director of National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI), said, “As the nation’s largest organization representing people living with serious mental illness and their families, NAMI is proud to offer our support for this strong bipartisan effort to address the current poor outcomes for many people with mental illnesses and promote earlier intervention for those with psychosis and other significant symptoms. This legislation is an important step forward in bringing greater accountability to our public mental health system and hope to individuals and families seeking treatment, services, and recovery.”

“The American Psychiatric Association is pleased to support the mental health reform legislation introduced by Sens. Chris Murphy (D.-Conn.) and Bill Cassidy, (R-La.),” said Saul Levin, M.D., M.P.A. Dr. Levin is both CEO and Medical Director of the APA. “Patients with serious mental illness and their families deserve comprehensive mental health reform, and we will work with members of both parties to get this needed legislation through the Senate in an expeditious manner.”

The legislation has been endorsed by:

  • National Alliance on Mental Illness
  • National Council for Behavioral Health
  • National Association of State Mental Health Program Directors
  • American Psychological Association
  • American Foundation for Suicide Prevention
  • Clinical Social Work Association
  • American Psychiatric Association
  • National Association of Psychiatric Health Systems
  • Adventist HealthCare

The Cassidy-Murphy Mental Health Reform Act will do the following:

Integrate Physical and Mental Health

  • Encourages states to break down walls between physical and mental health care systems by requiring states to identify barriers to integration. States would be eligible for grants of up to $2 million for five years, prioritizing those states that have already taken action. States taking part are eligible with additional federal funds to treat low-income individuals who have chronic conditions or serious and persistent mental illness. 

Designate an Assistant Secretary for Mental Health and Substance Use

  • Elevates the issue of mental health by establishing an Assistant Secretary for Mental Health and Substance Use Disorder within the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services who will be responsible for overseeing grants and promoting best practices in early diagnosis, treatment, and rehabilitation. The Assistant Secretary will work with other federal agencies and key stakeholders to coordinate mental health services across the federal system and help them to identify and implement effective and promising models of care.

Establish New Grant Programs for Early Intervention

  • Establishes a grant program focused on intensive early intervention for children as young as 3 years of age who demonstrate significant risk factors recognized as related to mental illness in adolescence and adulthood. A second grant program supports pediatrician consultation with mental health teams, which has seen great success in states like Massachusetts and Connecticut.

Establish Interagency Serious Mental Illness Coordinating Committee

  • Establishes a Serious Mental Illness (SMI) Coordination Committee under the Assistant Secretary to ensure documentation and promotion of research and treatment related to SMI and evaluate efficiency of government programs for individuals.

Establish New National Mental Health Policy Laboratory

  • New entity will fund innovation grants that identify new and effective models of care and demonstration grants to bring effective models to scale for adults and children.

Reauthorize Successful Research & Grant Programs

  • Reauthorizes key programs like the Community Mental Health Block Grants and state-based data collection. The bill also increases funding for critical biomedical research on mental health.

Strengthen Transparency and Enforcement of Mental Health Parity

  • Requires the U.S. Department of Labor, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, and the U.S. Department of the Treasury to conduct audits on Mental Health Parity implementation and issue guidance on how determinations are made regarding comparability mental health services and physical health services.

Improve Mental Health Services within Medicare/Medicaid

  • Makes critical reforms to allow for patients to use mental health services and primary care services at the same location, on the same day. Repeals the current Medicaid exclusion on inpatient care for individuals between the ages of 22 and 64 if the CMS actuary certifies that it would not lead to a net increase of federal spending.