Congressman Vern Buchanan

Representing the 16th District of Florida

Buchanan Co-Sponsors Landmark Mental Health Bill

May 15, 2014
Press Release
Most Significant Overhaul in 50 Years - “Too many loved ones are falling through the cracks”

CONTACT: Max Goodman

WASHINGTON – U.S. Rep. Vern Buchanan, R-FL, announced today he has co-sponsored sweeping legislation to reform the nation's broken mental health system byincreasing treatment options and prioritizing federal resources for patients and families in need of care.  The bipartisan measure, sponsored by Rep. Tim Murphy of Pennsylvania, marks the most significant overhaul of mental health care in America since President John F. Kennedy held office more than 50 years ago.

Nearly 23 million Americans live with a severe form of mental illness such as schizophrenia, bipolar disorder or major depression, according to the National Institute of Mental Health.  In fact, one in four adults suffer from a diagnosable mental disorder in a given year. 

However, due in large part to archaic and ineffective federal mental health policy, millions go without medical treatment.  The USA TODAY this week described America’s mental health network as a “system in tatters” and “drowning from neglect.” The cover story warned that “the mentally ill who have nowhere to go and find little sympathy from those around them often land hard in emergency rooms, county jails and city streets.  The lucky ones find homes with family. The unlucky ones show up in the morgue.”

Buchanan stressed the importance of instituting long-lasting reforms to help relieve the suffering of individuals and families affected by mental illness.  “Mental illness does not discriminate,” Buchanan said.  “This is a disease that affects all segments of society and yet so many continue to fall through the cracks.  We must do everything in our power to strengthen our mental health system so our loved ones receive the proper care and treatment they need.”

Specifically, “The Helping Families in Mental Health Crisis Act” (H.R. 3717), is the product of a yearlong congressional investigation that thoroughly examined how the government spends $125 billion annually on mental health programs.  Investigators found that federal agencies too often fail to use the best medical practices available and rarely coordinate their actions.  The legislation takes important steps toward fixing disjointed federal policy by: 

  • Driving Evidence-Based Care:  The federal government does not collect data on how mental health dollars are spent or whether those dollars are resulting in positive health outcomes. This bill establishes a high-ranking position within the Department of Health and Human Services to apply evidence-based models of care to all relevant federal programs.
  • Providing Alternatives to Institutionalization:  Approximately 40 percent of individuals with schizophrenia do not recognize they have a mental illness, making it difficult for them to follow through on a treatment regimen.  This bill provides alternatives to long-term inpatient care such as court-ordered “Assisted Outpatient Treatment” – which has proven to reduce rates of imprisonment, homelessness and costly ER visits by the chronically mentally ill.
  • Fixing the shortage of inpatient beds:  In 1940 the country had 600,000 inpatient psychiatric beds.  Today, there are only 40,000 beds nationwide.  This bill increases access to psychiatric beds for the most critical patients. 
  • Reaching rural populations:  Early diagnosis and medical intervention improves outcomes dramatically, but there is only one child psychiatrist for every 7,000 children with a mental illness. This bill advances tele-psychiatry to link primary care doctors with psychiatrists in areas where patients do not have access to mental health professionals.

The reform bill is not expected to carry any cost because it simply reorganizes the dollars the federal government spends on mental health services.  It has been endorsed by some of the top mental health advocacy and law enforcement organizations in the country, including the American Psychological Association, the American Psychiatric Association, the National Alliance on Mental Illness and the National Sherriff’s Association.