MURPHY CALLS ON CONGRESS TO FULLY FUND BIPARTISAN MENTAL HEALTH REFORMS AHEAD OF SANDY HOOK ANNIVERSARY

Murphy: “In the aftermath of that tragedy, Republicans and Democrats were able to come together to pass the Mental Health Reform Act…If properly funded, it will save lives.”

Click here to view video of Murphy’s opening remarks.

Click here to view video of Murphy’s first exchange with Dr. McCance-Katz.

Click here to view video of Murphy’s second exchange with Dr. McCance-Katz.

WASHINGTON – Ahead of the fifth anniversary of the tragic mass shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School where a deranged gunman shot and killed 20 first graders and six educators, U.S. Senator Chris Murphy (D-Conn.) – co-author of the bipartisan Mental Health Reform Act – highlighted the challenges that remain in our country’s mental health system during a U.S. Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee hearing. He also called on Congress to fully fund the improvements passed as part of the Mental Health Reform Act, which President Obama signed into law one year ago today. Murphy delivered opening remarks during the HELP hearing and received feedback from Dr. Elinore McCance-Katz – the first-ever Assistant Secretary for Mental Health and Substance Use, a position created by the Mental Health Reform Act – on the best ways to achieve mental health parity, broaden our mental health workforce, and make other improvements to the nation’s mental health care system.

“It is also almost five years to the day since the terrible tragedy at Sandy Hook Elementary School, when a young man with serious mental illness killed 20 first-graders and six adults,” said Murphy. “Now, let’s be clear there is no inherent connection between mental illness and violence. But we also know that when people fall through the cracks of our fractured mental health system, it can have a devastating impact.” 

“So in the aftermath of that tragedy, Republicans and Democrats were able to come together to pass the Mental Health Reform Act. It represents the first comprehensive overhaul and reauthorization of our nation’s mental health laws in a generation…but we have to remember that none of the programs that we authorized in this bill matter if we don’t fund them,” Murphy continued. “Congress has an awful habit of talking a really good game on mental health and addiction, but then never being willing to actually meet our rhetoric with resources. The legislation that we passed…is still groundbreaking. If properly funded, it will save lives.” 

Full text of Murphy’s opening remarks is below:

Thank you very much, Chairman Alexander. Thank you to both you and Ranking Member Murray for holding this important hearing, thank you to Senator Murray for allowing me to sit in her place, and to Senator Cassidy for years of our partnership on this issue.

It is indeed fitting that we are holding this hearing on the one-year anniversary of President Obama signing the legislation that established this new position at the Department of Health and Human Services. Dr. McCance-Katz is the first ever Assistant Secretary for Mental Health and Substance Use – a position that is long overdue. 

It is also almost five years to the day since the terrible tragedy at Sandy Hook Elementary School, when a young man with serious mental illness killed 20 first-graders and six adults. Now, let’s be clear there is no inherent connection between mental illness and violence. America has no more mental illness than any other country, and yet we have a gun violence rate that is 20 times higher than comparable nations. But we also know that when people fall through the cracks of our fractured mental health system, it can have a devastating impact. 

So in the aftermath of that tragedy, Republicans and Democrats were able to come together to pass the Mental Health Reform Act, which was part of the 21st Century CURES Act. It represents the first comprehensive overhaul and reauthorization of our nation’s mental health laws in a generation. It was supported by the mental health community, it garnered equal support from both parties, and it couldn’t have happened without the bipartisanship of this committee, which is of course a testament to Chairman Alexander and Ranking Member Murray.

I think the legislation’s most important provision is the part that built upon the Mental Health Parity and Addiction Equity Act by strengthening enforcement of that law and making it more transparent for Americans. Still, there are two recent reports that illustrate how far we still need to go to fully achieve that vision of parity. A couple of weeks ago, NAMI released its third nationwide parity report, which found that more than 1 out of 3 respondents with private insurance had difficulty finding a mental health therapist, compared with only 13% reporting difficulty finding a medical specialist.

Similarly, Milliman released a study that found that insurers pay primary care providers 20 percent more for the same types of care that they pay addiction and mental health specialists, including psychiatrists. In many states, the disparities in payment rates were two to three times greater – rates higher for medical doctors for people practicing medicine below the neck than those who are practicing medicine above the neck.

Fortunately, the 21st Century Cures law provided additional authority to the Trump administration on parity, and I hope that we’ll begin to see these provisions implemented soon. 

The law also created the position of the Assistant Secretary, as I mentioned. This was an important step to make sure that there was one person at the top of the leadership of the department who’s solely focused on these issues. We also codified the role of the Chief Medical Officer within SAMSHA to work closely with you. 

Other provisions include several grant programs to improve coordination of mental health treatment, the creation of first-ever infant and early childhood mental health grants. There’s a section of the bill that promotes workforce development, and after hearing from consumers and providers about how there was confusion around HIPAA and when it was allowable to share personal health information, we included a new authorization for HHS to develop educational materials to help patients and clinicians and family members better understand when these disclosures can take place.

There are other elements of the bill that will likely come up today but we have to remember that none of the programs that we authorized in this bill matter if we don’t fund them. Congress has an awful habit of talking a really good game on mental health and addiction, but then never being willing to actually meet our rhetoric with resources. The current Labor-HHS appropriations bill doesn’t yet include funding for the new programs in the bill we passed last year. And even worse, the health repeal bill that Republicans tried to push through the Senate earlier this year would have cut Medicaid funding over time by $800 billion. Medicaid, of course, is the nation’s primary payer for mental health treatment.

But the legislation that we passed as part of the 21st Century CURES Act – it is still groundbreaking. If properly funded, it will save lives. And so I’m deeply thankful, again, to the committee for their work in making this bill possible and for calling this hearing. 

Lastly, I’d just like to ask unanimous consent that Ranking Member Murray’s opening statement be placed in the record.

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