U.S. House to Pass Sweeping Mental Health Reform
One in 5 Americans Coping With Mental Illness
WASHINGTON — The U.S. House today is expected to approve the most sweeping reform of the nation’s mental health system in more than half a century, a bill Congressman Vern Buchanan called “a breath of fresh air after decades of flawed policies.”
Buchanan is a co-sponsor of the Helping Families in Mental Health Crisis Act, a bipartisan measure that will help the approximately one in five American adults that suffer from mental illness in a given year. The legislation is included in the 21st Century Cures Act, which is intended to spur innovative medical treatments and speed research. The Senate is expected to approve the measure by next week.
“For far too long Americans suffering with mental illness have been stigmatized and left in the shadows,” Buchanan said. “I’ve heard from countless families in Southwest Florida about how our current system leaves Americans untreated, incarcerated or worse. Congress can send a real message to all of those crying out for help by passing these life-saving reforms.”
Passage of the mental health legislation will mark the first time Congress has taken action to significantly overhaul the mental health system in more than half a century. 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.
Specifically, the Helping Families in Mental Health Crisis Act delivers treatment to individuals with mental illness before tragedy strikes. The legislation authorizes grants focused on suicide prevention and early intervention programs, and boosting the number of psychiatrists and psychologists. The bill allows law enforcement to use existing funds to create mental health response programs, including crisis intervention teams.
The legislation also directs the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) to undertake guidance to clarify 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 establishes eligibility requirements for mental health care telehealth programs to receive grant funding. Telepsychiatry and telepsychology are critical to linking 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.
“This bill helps stop Americans from falling through the cracks,” Buchanan said. “Congress must send this legislation promptly to the president’s desk so we can support all Americans with mental health issues on a path of recovery.”
The Helping Families in Mental Health Crisis boasted 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 Congressman Tim Murphy (R-Pa.), the sole practicing psychologist in Congress.