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Simmering mental health bill advances in House

June 16, 2016
by Julie Miller, Editor in Chief
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The Helping Families in Mental Health Crisis Act  (H.R. 2646), passed the House Energy and Commerce Committee on Wednesday by a vote of 53-to-0. According to sponsors Rep. Tim Murphy (R-Pa.) and Rep. Eddie Bernice Johnson (D-Texas), the bill has gained 197 co-sponsors, including 56 Democrats and 141 Republicans.

The next step for H.R. 2646 is a vote before the full U.S. House. A similar Senate bill (S. 2680) could come to a vote this month as well.

Industry groups ranging from the American College of Emergency Physicians to the National Association of Psychiatric Health Systems and the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) have responded positively to the progress.

NAMI CEO Mary Giliberti said in a statement that it is “a step in the right direction as we begin to address the many gaps in America’s mental health system.”

Several iterations have occurred since the bill’s introduction in 2013, but H.R. 2646 ultimately passed the Subcommittee on Health along party lines in November 2015. The newest draft crafted in early June revised some of the remaining provisions from the original bill that were contentious among legislators, but industry experts say there are still details that will cause disagreement.

For example, the bill maintains a position for an assistant secretary within the Department of Health and Human Services who would absorb the duties of the SAMHSA administrator.

“They all want to go home and say they worked hard and passed a mental health bill as they campaign this fall, even though they know it’s not perfect, even though it has flaws in it,” says Ron Manderscheid, PhD, executive director of the National Association of County Behavioral Health and Developmental Disability Directors.

H.R. 2646 was initially introduced as a reaction to the Sandy Hook Elementary School tragedy.

More on H.R. 2646 here.

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