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WASHINGTON – Today, in an appearance on MSNBC’s Morning Joe, U.S. Senator Chris Murphy (D-Conn.) and U.S. Senator Bill Cassidy (R-La.), both members of the U.S. Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee, highlighted their new bipartisan legislation – the Mental Health Reform Act of 2015 – that will comprehensively overhaul and strengthen America’s mental health care system. The Mental Health Reform Act 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.
The full text of the senators’ remarks on Morning Joe is below:
Willie Geist: Joining us now from Washington, Democratic senator from Connecticut, Chris Murphy….and Republican senator from Louisiana Bill Cassidy. They're the co-authors of a new bipartisan push for mental health reform. Gentlemen, thank you so much for joining us. You couldn't be more different on the issue of guns – you’ve said as much there is not a lot you agree on, but you have found some common ground here. What it is?
Senator Murphy: Well, we both unfortunately come from states where we've had just enormous horrific tragedies with respect to gun violence. I don't think it's any secret that we're going to likely have trouble finding common ground in Congress on gun laws over the course of the next couple years. But we absolutely can find common ground on fixing a very broken mental health system. So Bill and I have been working for the last six months – a conservative republican and a progressive democrat – to try to put together the first comprehensive reform of the nation's mental health laws that’s been introduced in the Senate at least during the time that we've been there. We’re focused on building capacity for inpatient care, for outpatient care, trying to bring together the physical health and mental health system and continuing to reduce discrimination. You know, hopefully we'll be able to breakthrough some of the inaction around these issues that affect families and individuals suffering mental illness.
Joe Scarborough: Chris, why has mental health been ignored for so long?
Senator Murphy: It's hard to understand why Congress has taken a pass on this for so long. Part of it is that we do need some more resources and it's hard to come up with those resources. But this is an issue that really should unite both of our parties. Every single member of the Senate has a family member or a close friend who has been touched by mental illness. We're spending and wasting a lot of money by warehousing people in prisons, by leaving people lingering in hospitals. We can save a lot of money if we fix this system.
Mike Barnicle: Senator Cassidy, what does this bill do, if anything, about access to mental health care? I understand the greater goal of providing mental health care, but access to mental health care for people?
Senator Cassidy: It attempts to expand access. It asks states to report their outcomes. Now if the state is doing a really good job, the hope is that other states will imitate what the one is doing which looks so good. There are also grants in which we expand the number of mental health providers. Right now, there is an incredible shortage of mental health providers, so there will be an attempt to increase that number. That’s a good start. We have more to do, but we also are going to increase the number of, as Chris mentioned, capacity for inpatient beds. There is, right now, an incredible shortage of inpatient beds. So that's another thing we're doing to expand access.
Joe Scarborough: You know, Chris, you and I are both residents of Connecticut, and obviously both touched in different ways about it horrors of Newtown. I remember after Newtown, we all talked about the things that we needed to discuss – gun laws, mental health, other issues – but it devolved into an ugly gun debate immediately, and mental health got brushed aside. Do you think Congress is ready—do you think America is ready to have this discussion now?
Senator Murphy: I wish that we weren't having this debate over fixing our mental health system because of these gun tragedies because frankly, Bill and I have been working on fixing our mental health system for a long time. And it should be fixed because it's broken, period, stop. But we do have this political moment where people are paying attention, and we’d be fools not to take advantage of it. The fact is that people who are mentally ill are much more likely to be the victims of gun violence rather than the perpetrators of it, but there's no doubt that by increasing capacity, you're going to make it less likely that somebody is going to walk into a school or a movie theater who is very sick and cause this kind of damage.
Joe Scarborough: And Senator, are Republicans in our party that you work with, do they understand the need to expand mental health?
Senator Cassidy: Absolutely. If you speak to a sheriff, a sheriff will say that he is the largest provider of mental health in his county or in his parish – in Louisiana, we have parishes. And, he’ll also say that oftentimes the person they have most trouble with within that system, is he or she who is mentally ill. So this is neither a right nor left issue. It is an American issue. And we think we can find rationale for it both from the patient’s perspective, the family’s perspective, but also the societal perspective. We would rather have somebody who's first episode at 15 is recognized, who is then redirected to a path of wholeness and wellness, who does not enter the criminal justice system, who gets a good job and pays taxes as opposed to becoming eventually something less than they could be. This is going to be an issue good for all Americans.
Joe Scarborough: All right guys, thank you so much. Greatly appreciate you focusing on this serious, serious topic. We appreciate it. Thank you so much, Chris Murphy and Bill Cassidy.