WASHINGTON, March 16 – The Senate health committee today passed legislation to help address the country’s mental health crisis and help ensure Americans suffering from mental illness and substance use disorders receive the care they need. The committee also passed additional legislation to help tackle the opioid epidemic by addressing prevention and treatment efforts to fight opioid addiction and abuse.
“I’ve worked so hard to fix our broken mental health care system because I’ve seen how devastating it is when we allow those with mental illness to fall through the cracks. Through more than a dozen roundtables and town halls in Connecticut, I’ve heard hundreds of heartbreaking stories from families struggling to get a loved one the help they need. We all have heard these stories -- each of them unique, but somehow exactly the same,” said Senator Chris Murphy (D-Conn.). “I have been lucky to have Senator Cassidy as a partner in this effort from day one, and I’m grateful that Senators Alexander and Murray have made this a priority in the committee. Today’s passage of a comprehensive bill through the Health Committee is a strong signal of the broad bipartisan support for reform, but I won’t rest until we get a meaningful bill signed into law, with real resources behind it.”
“One in five adults in this country suffers from a mental illness, and nearly 60 percent aren’t receiving the treatment they need,” said Senate health committee Chairman Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.). “This bill will help address this crisis by ensuring our federal programs and policies incorporate proven, scientific approaches to improve care for patients. States like Tennessee and local governments are on the forefront in treating mental illness and substance use disorder, and this legislation will support their efforts so people can get the help they need.”
“The policies laid out today are strong steps in the right direction, toward solving the many problems that patients and families face when they seek care for mental illness and substance use disorder,” said Ranking Member Patty Murray (D-Wash.). “The Mental Health Reform Act would help expand access to quality care, and make sure that patients receive coordinated mental and physical health care. Moving forward, we must build on the bipartisan foundation laid out in this agreement, and continue making progress to improve treatment for mental health, and substance use disorders across our country.”
Senator Bill Cassidy (R-La.) said, "We all know someone who has been affected by a mental illness. The Mental Health Reform Act of 2016 is a positive step forward in reforming our mental health system — helping those who struggle with mental illness every day. I have been working alongside Senators Alexander, Murray and Murphy to introduce this legislation to ensure that we can expand care to those who need it. This bill is an important step in the road to recovery for the 44 million Americans who suffer from a serious mental illness."
The Mental Health Reform Act of 2016 reflects feedback from states, patient groups, advocacy groups, state associations, hospitals, insurers, providers, and doctor’s groups who reviewed a discussion draft of the legislation released on March 7.
The bill also includes the Mental Health Awareness and Improvement Act, which already passed the Senate health committee, to continue and improve programs that help states and local communities prevent suicide, help children recover from traumatic events, provide mental health awareness for teachers and others, and assess barriers to integrating behavioral health and primary care.
The MENTAL HEALTH REFORM ACT of 2016:
Ensures that mental health programs are effectively serving those with mental illness: The bill will improve coordination between federal agencies and departments that provide grants and services for individuals with mental illness, and will improve accountability and evaluations of mental health programs.
Helps states meet the needs of those suffering from mental illness: This bill helps to ensure that federal dollars support states in providing quality mental health care for individuals suffering from mental illness by updating the block grant for states.
Promotes the use of evidence-based approaches, promising best practices in mental health care: The bill requires that the federal agencies and programs involved in mental health policy incorporate the most up-to-date and evidence-based approaches for treating mental illness, and requires that agency leadership include mental health professionals who have practical experience.
Improves access to mental health care: The bill improves access to care for individuals including veterans and service members, homeless individuals, women, and children. It also helps improve the training for those who care for individuals with mental illnesses and substance use disorders, and promotes better enforcement of existing mental health parity laws.