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Unanimous vote sends mental health reform to House floor


 

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The much contested Helping Families in Mental Health Crisis Act is at last headed for the House floor. The bipartisan bill was passed 53-0 by members of the House Energy and Commerce Committee.

“The 53-0 vote marks another important milestone to delivering meaningful reforms to families in mental health crisis. Those suffering from mental illness need the attention of this Congress, and I hope the House will swiftly follow our lead,” Rep. Fred Upton (R-Mich.), chairman of the committee, said in a statement.

Rep. Tim Murphy (R-Pa.)

Rep. Tim Murphy (R-Pa.)

Much of the debate on H.R. 2646, introduced last year by Rep. Tim Murphy (R-Pa.), has centered on its call for relaxation of HIPAA rules, tougher assisted outpatient treatment requirements, and changes to the structure of the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA).

The bill originally called for relaxing HIPAA somewhat so that parents and caregivers could receive patient care information, excluding psychotherapy notes. Instead, the bill as passed by the committee calls upon the Department of Health and Human Services to clarify the law and better educate medical personnel as to what is and isn’t appropriate to share, particularly when a patient is considered incapacitated.

Rep. Murphy, who is a clinical child psychologist, also wanted to more widely implement assisted outpatient treatment (AOT) for patients with serious mental illness. In the end, the committee approved a 2-year extension for AOT block grant funding into 2020, at a cost of an additional $5 million.

The bill as passed by the committee entrusts the administration of SAMHSA to a cabinet-level appointee and calls for that individual to be a physician or clinical psychologist. Various checks and balances have also been added to ensure that if the bill becomes law, SAMHSA will focus on evidence-based practices.

The bill (which greatly mirrors the U.S. Senate bill the Mental Health Reform Act of 2016, S. 2680) now heads to the House floor where Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) has pledged to give it priority this summer.

“Here and now this committee jointly proclaims that the diagnosis and treatment of mental illness must come out of the shadows. We declare a new dawn of hope for the care of those with mental illness and we pledge our unwavering commitment to continued work to bring help and hope in the future,” Rep. Murphy said in a statement.

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