The House passed the Helping Families in Mental Health Crisis Act (H.R. 2646) Wednesday with a 422-to-2 vote. It’s a piece of bipartisan legislation that has stalled for years and has gone back to the drawing board several times.
Rep. Tim Murphy (R-Pa.) introduced H.R. 2646 as a response to the Sandy Hook Elementary School shootings in 2012. Among the provisions, it creates an assistant secretary position within the federal health agency that would have oversight of behavioral health programs and sets up grants for treatment and prevention programs. New HIPAA guidance was part of the original bill but was scaled back in the iterations, so it now simply directs the federal agency to clarify rules about disclosure of information to help improve care for those who are in treatment.
Not surprisingly, Democrats are still calling attention to the need for appropriated funding to back any legislative moves in the healthcare space.
According to Murphy, the bill earned 207 bipartisan co-sponsors in advance of the vote on the House floor and garnered endorsements from advocates, physicians and families of individuals with mental illness. The Treatment Advocacy Center has called this the first bill in generations to make substantial reforms to the mental health system. The National Alliance on Mental Illness said in a statement: “H.R. 2646 addresses gaps in America’s mental health system and accommodates different perspectives on complex issues. It will improve crisis response services, provide grants to track inpatient and residential beds, promote early intervention and suicide prevention and support integration of mental health, substance use and primary care.”
Next up in the process is waiting for the outcome of the parallel bill from a Senate committee, which is waiting for a vote from the full Senate. Once the Senate acts, a committee comprised of both chambers would reconcile the file measure and sent it to the president’s desk.