Early spring flowers are beginning to emerge in the US Senate. Active signs of movement continue to be noted almost every day on national mental health legislation. We need to understand these developments and to encourage them. This is a very brief update on developments during the past two weeks.
At the beginning of this current week, most attention has been focused on the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions (HELP) Committee. On Monday, Senator Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.), the Chairperson, and Senator Patty Murray (D-Wash.), the Ranking Member, together with several other Senators, presented a discussion draft of a new bipartisan bill, The Mental Health Reform Act of 2016. (A full text is available here.) This discussion draft has been very well received by the mental health community over the past several days.
The draft bill brings together pieces of the Mental Health Awareness and Improvement Act (S. 1893), originally passed in 2013 as an amendment to gun control legislation that was never enacted; the Mental Health Reform Act of 2015 (S. 1945), introduced by Senator Bill Cassidy (R-La.) and Senator Chris Murphy (D-Ct.); the Mental Health and Safe Communities Act of 2015 (S. 2002), introduced by Senator John Cornyn (R-Texas); and the Extension of the Excellence in Mental Health Act (S. 2525) introduced by Senator Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.) and Senator Roy Blunt (R-Mo.). Of considerable import, this new draft bill represents a good-faith, bipartisan effort to craft a bill that will receive broad support from both Democrats and Republicans, and one that can receive support from the Obama Administration as well.
A summary of the draft bill released by Senators Alexander and Murray is available here.
The summary states that the bill will:
> Ensure that mental health programs are effectively serving those with mental illness: The bill will improve coordination between federal agencies and departments that provide services for individuals with mental illness, and will improve accountability and evaluation of mental health programs.
> Help states meet the needs of those suffering from mental illness: This bill helps ensure that federal dollars support states in providing quality mental health care for individuals suffering from mental illness by updating the Community Mental Health Services block grant for states.
> Promote the use of evidence-based approaches and promising best practices in mental healthcare: The bill requires that the federal agencies and programs involved in mental health policy incorporate the most up-to-date approaches for treating mental illness, and requires that agency leadership include mental health professionals who have practical experience.
> Increase access to mental healthcare: The bill increases access to care for Individuals including veterans, homeless individuals, women, and children. It also helps improve the training for those who care for those with mental illnesses. It promotes better enforcement of existing mental health parity laws.