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Senate mental health bill awaits markup

October 27, 2015
by Julie Miller, Editor in Chief
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As Rep. Tim Murphy (R-Pa.) enlists new support for his mental health legislation introduced in June (H.R. 2646), members of the House Energy & Commerce Committee are expressing opposition to it. Meanwhile, Sens. Chris Murphy (D-Conn.) and Bill Cassidy (R-La.) are looking to complete the markup on the Senate version of mental health reform legislation.

Recently, in a letter to the committee chairman, 19 House members outlined their disagreement with several provisions of H.R. 2646.

1. The bill contains a revision of HIPAA rules that would allow clinicians to share certain information with a patient’s family, with or without specific consent. The committee members state in the letter that HIPAA already permits information sharing when a patient is incapacitated and it’s in the patient’s best interest to do so. They believe loosening existing privacy rules “would deter individuals from seeking treatment they need.”

2. The bill includes 2 percent funding incentives for states that have assisted outpatient treatment laws (AOT). Opposing members say, “ Giving block grant funding preference to states that have enacted AOT laws would reduce funding for other states due to the limited pool of resources.” Their opposition also rests on the idea that AOT can be applied for individuals who do not pose an imminent threat to themselves or others.

3. Opponents also disagree with H.R. 2646’s provision to turn over SAMHSA to a new Office of the Assistant Secretary for Mental Health and Substance Use Disorders that would be responsible for federal spending on behavioral health. Many observers have pointed to current SAMHSA programs that would be dismantled under the bill.

“I have very specific concerns about current legislative proposals. Yet, I hope that our Republican colleagues can come to the table so that we can have a substantive conversation and reach a compromise on mental health reform.” said Rep. Doris Matsui (D-Calif.), who signed the letter to the House committee chair.

In the Senate, Cassidy and Chris Murphy have been bringing in co-sponsors for their version of similar mental health legislation, meant to be a companion effort to H.R. 2646 but without the hot-button AOT provisions or the changes to SAMHSA. According to The Hill, the senators are waiting for a cost estimate from the Congressional Budget Office but are looking to move on the markup before yearend.