The bill, which is less supportive of assisted outpatient treatment than Rep. Tim Murphy’s bill, is regarded as a response to the Republican-sponsored Murphy bill.
The Strengthening Mental Health in Our Communities Act (HR 4574) was introduced in Congress May 6 by Rep. Ron Barber (D-Ariz.), calling for the creation of a White House Office of Mental Health Policy and the development of what he calls a “national strategy for mental health.”
The bill is similar to—but in some areas significantly different from—the Helping Families in Mental Health Crisis Act (HR 3717), sponsored by Rep. Tim Murphy (R-Pa.). While the Barber bill opts for a White House Office of Mental Health Policy, for example, the Murphy bill would create an assistant secretary of mental health and substance use within the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS). In addition, the new bill introduced by Barber contains many fewer reforms to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) and is not as supportive of assisted outpatient treatment as the Murphy bill is. For instance, the Murphy bill would encourage states to adopt a “need-for-treatment” standard for assisted outpatient treatment (Psychiatric News, April 25).
The new bill is regarded as a response by Democrats in Congress to the Republican-sponsored Helping Families in Mental Health Crisis Act—the Murphy bill— and will likely serve as a negotiating tool for compromise legislation on mental health care.
In a May 15 letter to Barber, APA CEO and Medical Director Saul Levin, M.D., M.P.A., emphasized that the United States is at a historic crossroads in its treatment of individuals with serious mental illnesses and its ability to deal with the personal, economic, and moral consequences of untreated psychiatric disorders. “Your Strengthening Mental Health in Our Communities Act contains several reforms that are important to improving this untenable situation,” he wrote.
“As you are aware,” Levin added, “comprehensive mental health legislation (HR 3717, the Helping Families in Mental Health Crisis Act) has been introduced by Representative Tim Murphy that emphasizes the provision of evidence-based psychiatric services and research supports. It is APA’s hope that lawmakers in both parties, in collaboration with the mental health advocacy community, can move forward with bipartisan expansive mental health legislation that significantly and positively reforms our nation’s severely flawed mental health system.”
Among the provisions in the new bill, sponsored by Barber, are the following:
Creation of the White House Office of Mental Health Policy to monitor and coordinate federal mental health activities, make recommendations to HHS and the National Institute of Mental Health on federal-level mental health issues, develop and update an annual “national strategy for mental health” report, and make recommendations related to federal budgets affecting mental health programs.
Development of the “national strategy for mental health,” which will involve an annual comprehensive plan to make recommendations and improve outcomes for individuals with mental illness and maximize the efficiency and effectiveness of community-based mental health services. The strategy’s annual plan is required to include goals and performance measures and to assess prior national strategy reports to review their outcomes.
Reauthorization of block grants and several SAMHSA programs and services through Fiscal 2019, including the National Child Traumatic Stress Initiative, mental health training grants, and the Protection and Advocacy for Individuals With Mental Illness program, among others.
Authorization of a new SAMHSA national media campaign to reduce stigma associated with mental illness and its treatment.
Expansion of the Medicaid home- and community-based services waiver to include youth in need of services provided in a psychiatric residential treatment facility.
Authorization of additional funding for behavioral and mental health professionals serving in the National Health Service Corps.
Authorization of $40 million for NIMH to support research into the determinants of self- and other-directed violence associated with mental illness and to help fund the Brain Research Through Advancing Innovative Neurotechnologies (BRAIN) initiative, announced last year by President Obama.
Authorization of a comprehensive SAMHSA grant program for the provision of school-based mental health services based largely on the goals of the Mental Health in Schools Act (HR 628) sponsored by Rep. Grace Napolitano (D-Calif.). ■
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