WASHINGTON — U.S. Senator Chris Murphy (D-Conn.) and U.S. Senator Bill Cassidy (R-La.), co-authors of the bipartisan Mental Health Reform Act and members of the U.S. Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions (HELP) Committee, applauded the U.S. House of Representatives on Wednesday for passing a bipartisan bill, which includes mental health reform, in a vote of 392-26. The bill also includes emergency funding to address the opioid and heroin crisis, and increased investments in medical research. The Senate is expected to vote on the bill next week.
“I’d heard too many devastating stories of people struggling with serious mental illness and addiction whose lives were forever changed because they couldn’t get the care they need. I’d seen up close the heartbreak and frustration that families suffered trying to find care for a loved one – care that seemed impossible to find and even harder to pay for. That’s why I worked with Republicans and Democrats on the Mental Health Reform Act,” said Murphy. “With today’s House passage of the bill, Congress is closer than ever to passing mental health reform and making a real difference in millions of people’s lives. I’ll be working hard to get the bill over the finish line in the Senate so President Obama can sign it into law before he leaves office.”
“After two years of fighting for mental health reform, we now have the opportunity to help the millions of Americans who have been denied access to care by our broken mental health system,” said Dr. Cassidy. "This legislation provides hope to the families of those affected by mental illness.”
After months of collaborating with mental health professionals, policy experts, consumers, and family members, Murphy and Cassidy introduced their bipartisan Mental Health Reform Act of 2015 to expand federal resources and improve coordination for mental health and substance abuse treatment programs. The Senators worked closely with U.S. Senators Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.) and Patty Murray (D-Wash.) to craft an updated bill, the Mental Health Reform Act of 2016, which passed the HELP Committee unanimously earlier this year. The Mental Health Reform Act of 2016 served as the basis for the mental health language included in the bill passed today.
Highlights from the bill passed today are included below. A fact sheet can be found here.
Mental Health Reforms
- Integrates Physical and Mental Health: The bill encourages states to break down walls between physical and mental health care systems by requiring them to identify barriers to integration. States will be eligible for grants to promote integration between primary and behavioral health care for individuals with mental illness along with co-occurring physical health conditions.
- Strengthens Transparency and Enforcement of Mental Health Parity: The bill strengthens the enforcement of existing mental health parity protections to ensure that physical and mental health are covered equally by insurers. It requires federal agencies to report on enforcement actions related to the mental health parity law and establishes an enforcement “action plan” informed by key stakeholders. It also requires the government to audit a health plan if it is found to have violated existing mental health parity laws.
- Establishes New Programs for Early Intervention and Improves Access to Mental Health Care for Children: The bill establishes a grant program focused on intensive early intervention for infants and young children who are at risk of developing or are showing signs of mental illness. A second grant program supports pediatrician consultation with mental health teams, which has seen great success in states like Massachusetts and Connecticut. The bill also ensures that children covered by Medicaid have access to the full range of early and periodic screening, diagnostic, and treatment services.
- Strengthens Suicide Prevention: The bill continues the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline program, and provides information and training for suicide prevention, surveillance, and intervention strategies. It reauthorizes Youth Suicide Early Intervention and Prevention Strategies grants to states and tribes, and establishes suicide prevention and intervention program grants for adults.
- Establishes New National Mental Health Policy Laboratory: The bill establishes a new entity to fund innovation grants that identify new and effective models of care, and demonstration grants to bring effective models to scale for adults and children.
- Reauthorizes Successful Grant Programs: The bill reauthorizes key programs like the Community Mental Health Block Grants and state-based data collection. It modernizes the mental health and substance use disorder block grants, streamlines the application process, and promotes the use of evidence-based practices within states. It continues grants to states and communities to help train teachers, emergency services personnel and others to recognize signs and symptoms of mental illness. Additionally, it reauthorizes grants to train mental health providers such as psychologists, psychiatrists, social workers and paraprofessionals.
- Strengthens Leadership and Accountability for Federal Mental Health and Substance Use Programs: The bill creates an Assistant Secretary for Mental Health and Substance Use within the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services who will be responsible for overseeing grants and promoting best practices. 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. The bill also establishes a Chief Medical Officer to advise on evidence-based and promising best practices emphasizing a clinical focus.
- Develops New Educational Materials on Privacy Protections: The bill requires HHS to develop educational materials to help patients, clinicians and family members understand when personal health information can be shared to clear up confusion.
Opioid Treatment & Prevention
- The bill provides $1 billion over 2 years for grants targeting opioid abuse prevention and treatment activities, such as improving prescription drug monitoring programs, implementing prevention activities, training for health care providers, and expanding access to opioid treatment programs
Funding for NIH & the Cancer Moonshot
- The bill provides over $4.8 billion over 10 years to the National Institutes of Health (NIH) for the Precision Medicine Initiative, the Brain Research Through Advancing Innovative Neurotechnologies Initiative, cancer research, and regenerative medicine using adult stem cells.
- The bill provides $500 million to the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) over 10 years to implement provisions in Title III to move drugs and medical devices to patients more quickly, while maintaining the same standard for safety and effectiveness.