A bipartisan bill to reform the mental health system is moving ahead in the U.S. Senate as a similar bill in the House seems to have run into opposition.
The Senate legislation, S.1945, is sponsored by U.S. Sen. Bill Cassidy, R-La., with U.S. Sen. Chris Murphy, D-Conn., listed as the first co-sponsor.
But Murphy’s bill doesn’t include the same controversial provision as the one in the House, H.R. 2646, which was introduced by U.S. Rep. Tim Murphy, a Republican from Pennsylvania.
Both measures have been billed as a way to deal, in a preventative way, with mass shootings like the one in Newtown at Sandy Hook Elementary School in 2012. But Democrats in the House have objected to a provision in the House bill that incentivizes states to adopt what is known as Assisted Outpatient Treatment, where a judge can mandate treatment for patients with mental illness.
Murphy, however, wanted to highlight the positives, saying Wednesday, “What defines these bills is the similarities, not the differences.”
Connecticut, according Murphy, is one of only five states that don’t use Assisted Outpatient Treatment. Democrats in the House are concerned because an earlier version of the House bill would have rescinded federal funds from states that don’t have these laws. However, an updated version of the bill seeks to set into motion a reward system for states with these laws, instead of making it punitive for states without them. The House Energy and Commerce Health Subcommittee advanced it on a mostly party-line vote Wednesday.
Murphy said the solution to the concerns with the House bill is adoption of the Senate language, which steers clear of involuntary treatment.
The Senate bill will start to make its way through the committee process early next year. There are three committees with jurisdiction, including the Health, Education, Labor, and Pension Committee, the Finance Committee, and the Judiciary Committee.
“We’re as close as we’ve ever been,” Murphy said.
The Senate legislation was recently endorsed by the American Medical Association, which wrote: “This comprehensive legislation makes significant reforms to our current mental health delivery system, which we believe would help to provide access to, and improve treatment for, millions of Americans who suffer from mental illness and substance use disorders.”
The Senate bill has not been scored yet by the Congressional Budget Office. However, the House bill was recently given an eye-popping price tag of between $3 billion and potentially $46 billion to $66 billion over a 10-year period.
“You can’t say you’ve made a difference for people with mental illness if you haven’t put more money into the system,” Murphy said.
Over the past eight years, according to Murphy, there has been a loss of about 4,000 inpatient beds nationwide.
“No wonder why people sitting in emergency rooms,” Murphy said. “There’s increasing demand for services and decreasing capacity.”