Buchanan-Backed Bill on Mental Health Advances
Historic Legislation Delivers Treatment Before Tragedy Hits
WASHINGTON — Noting that 23 million Americans live with a severe form of mental illness, Congressman Vern Buchanan today applauded a key U.S. House committee for passing landmark legislation that will reform the nation’s broken, outdated mental health system. Buchanan is a co-sponsor of the bipartisan bill authored by Rep. Tim Murphy, R-Pa.
The last major push for mental health reform occurred more than 50 years ago, when President John F. Kennedy signed the Community Mental Health Act of 1963.
“Mental illness is a disease and touches nearly all families,” said Buchanan. “Our current mental health system leaves too many Americans untreated, incarcerated or worse. This bill is a great first step in aiding those who have fallen through the cracks.”
Specifically, the Helping Families in Mental Health Crisis Act helps deliver treatment to individuals with mental illness before tragedy strikes. The legislation authorizes grants focused on suicide prevention and early intervention programs, boosting the number of psychiatrists and psychologists, and crisis intervention training for law enforcement and first-responders.
The legislation also requires the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) to issue a regulation to clarify the HIPAA privacy rules, a common frustration for caregivers and family members that prohibits them from knowing critical information such as their loved ones’ medication or treatment plan.
Another critical component to the measure is closing the gap in mental health care for underserved and rural populations. This bill advances tele-psychiatry to link primary care doctors with psychiatrists in areas where patients do not have access to mental health professionals. Additionally, it authorizes the Minority Fellowship Program, which provides specialized training for mental health professionals interested in serving minority communities.
The bill drives evidence-based care and ensures federal dollars are spent effectively by creating a new assistant secretary in HHS responsible for overseeing mental health and substance abuse programs. A 2014 Government Accountability Office (GAO) report revealed a lack of coordination among the eight agencies and 112 federal programs tasked with supporting individuals with serious mental illness. The report also found shortcomings in the evaluation of the federal programs.
The U.S. House Energy and Commerce Committee passed the measure in a unanimous, bipartisan vote of 53-0. House leaders have yet to schedule a vote on the legislation, but have hinted at bringing it to the floor this fall, according to press reports.
Buchanan said Congress should immediately bring this bill to vote before August recess. “Congress can be a leading voice in bringing mental illness out of the shadows by getting this bill enacted into law.”
The bill boasts 197 co-sponsors and endorsements from nearly all of the nation’s leading advocacy groups, including the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI), the American Psychological Association, and American Psychiatric Association.
The Congressman has been a leading advocate in urging reforms to the federal mental health system for several years. Buchanan previously co-sponsored similar legislation in the 113th Congress. In 2014 Buchanan held a mental health town hall in Sarasota, Fla. with Murphy, the sole practicing psychologist in Congress.