After overwhelming, bipartisan approval Wednesday by the U.S. House of Representatives, a mental health reform bill which includes $1 billion to combat the opioid addiction crisis in the country, is headed for a Senate vote next week.
U.S. Sens. Chris Murphy and Bill Cassidy, R-La., co-authors of the bipartisan Mental Health Reform Act and members of the U.S. Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions (HELP) Committee, applauded the U.S. House of Representatives for passing the bill, which includes mental health reform, in a vote of 392-26.
In a conference call on Thursday morning, Murphy called the bill, “the most significant mental health legislation to pass in a decade.”
Both he, and Cassidy also said they were proud that Democrats and Republicans have come together in both the House and the Senate to champion the legislation.
The bill also includes emergency funding to address the opioid and heroin crisis, and increased investments in medical research.
The Senate is expected to vote on the bill next week.
“I’d heard too many devastating stories of people struggling with serious mental illness and addiction whose lives were forever changed because they couldn’t get the care they need,” Murphy said.
With House passage, Congress is closer than ever to passing mental health reform. The Senate is expected to take up the bill before it adjourns later this month.
“I’ll be working hard to get the bill over the finish line in the Senate so President Obama can sign it into law before he leaves office,” Murphy said.
Asked whether the legislation would survive under President-elect Donald Trump’s vow to throw out the Affordable Care Act, Murphy responded that Trump had promised on the campaign trail to replace Obamacare “with a better and cheaper” health care system – and that the mental health reform bill meets that standard.
“The ball is in the president-elect’s court,” Murphy said.
Cassidy, who is also a physician, said he was “excited” about the legislation, “because it fixes a broken health system where people with mental health issues are three times more likely to wind up in prison then in a hospital bed.”
Highlights provided by Murphy’s office from the bill passed Wednesday are included below.
Mental Health Reforms
Integrates Physical and Mental Health: The bill encourages states to break down walls between physical and mental health care systems by requiring them to identify barriers to integration. States will be eligible for grants to promote integration between primary and behavioral health care for individuals with mental illness along with co-occurring physical health conditions.
Strengthens Transparency and Enforcement of Mental Health Parity: The bill strengthens the enforcement of existing mental health parity protections to ensure that physical and mental health are covered equally by insurers.
It requires federal agencies to report on enforcement actions related to the mental health parity law and establishes an enforcement “action plan” informed by key stakeholders. It also requires the government to audit a health plan if it is found to have violated existing mental health parity laws.
Establishes New Programs for Early Intervention and Improves Access to Mental Health Care for Children: The bill establishes a grant program focused on intensive early intervention for infants and young children who are at risk of developing or are showing signs of mental illness.
A second grant program supports pediatrician consultation with mental health teams, which already exists in states like Massachusetts and Connecticut. The bill also ensures that children covered by Medicaid have access to the full range of early and periodic screening, diagnostic, and treatment services.
Strengthens Suicide Prevention: The bill continues the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline program, and provides information and training for suicide prevention, surveillance, and intervention strategies. It reauthorizes Youth Suicide Early Intervention and Prevention Strategies grants to states and tribes, and establishes suicide prevention and intervention program grants for adults.
Establishes New National Mental Health Policy Laboratory: The bill establishes a new entity to fund innovation grants that identify new and effective models of care, and demonstration grants to bring effective models to scale for adults and children.
Reauthorizes Successful Grant Programs: The bill reauthorizes programs like the Community Mental Health Block Grants and state-based data collection. It modernizes the mental health and substance use disorder block grants, streamlines the application process, and promotes the use of evidence-based practices within states.
It continues grants to states and communities for Mental Health First Aid to help train teachers, emergency services personnel and others to recognize signs and symptoms of mental illness. Additionally, it reauthorizes grants to train mental health providers such as psychologists, psychiatrists, social workers and paraprofessionals.
Strengthens Leadership and Accountability for Federal Mental Health and Substance Use Programs: The bill creates an Assistant Secretary for Mental Health and Substance Use within the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services who will be responsible for overseeing grants and promoting best practices.
The Assistant Secretary will work with other federal agencies and key stakeholders to coordinate mental health services across the federal system and help them to identify and implement effective and promising models of care. The bill also establishes a Chief Medical Officer to advise on evidence-based and promising best practices emphasizing a clinical focus.
Develops New Educational Materials on Privacy Protections: The bill requires HHS to develop educational materials to help patients, clinicians and family members understand when personal health information can be shared to clear up confusion.
Opioid Treatment & Prevention
The bill provides $1 billion over 2 years for grants targeting opioid abuse prevention and treatment activities, such as improving prescription drug monitoring programs, implementing prevention activities, training for health care providers, and expanding access to opioid treatment programs.
Funding for NIH & the Cancer Moonshot
The bill provides over $4.8 billion over 10 years to the National Institutes of Health (NIH) for the Precision Medicine Initiative, the Brain Research Through Advancing Innovative Neurotechnologies Initiative, cancer research, and regenerative medicine using adult stem cells.
The bill provides $500 million to the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) over 10 years to implement provisions in Title III to move drugs and medical devices to patients more quickly, while maintaining the same standard for safety and effectiveness.