By Peter Sullivan
March 8, 2016
Rep. Tim Murphy (R-Pa.), the author of mental health legislation in the House, is sharply criticizing a new bipartisan measure in the Senate.
Murphy accused the senators behind the bill of abandoning important reforms in order to reach a deal.
“When it comes to transforming the hopelessly failed federal mental health system, we can make a deal or make a difference,” Murphy said in a statement.
“To abandon our House reforms supported by a bipartisan coalition of 185 members would be tantamount to abandoning patients with serious mental illness and those who have devoted their lives to care for them,” he added.
Mental healthcare reform is one of the few areas for potential bipartisan accomplishment this election year, but Murphy's criticisms of the Senate bill illustrate the obstacles ahead.
Murphy’s bill in the House includes several controversial reforms aimed at helping the mentally ill and has long been mired in partisan disputes.
The Senate bill, released Monday night, is in contrast backed by the top Republican and Democrat on the Health Committee. It also leaves out some of Murphy’s contentious measures.
The new Senate bill focuses on both mental health and the opioid crisis. It does not include Murphy’s financial incentives for states to adopt assisted outpatient treatment laws, where judges can order a mentally ill person to follow a treatment plan instead of being committed to a hospital.
Murphy’s bill also changes health privacy regulations under a law known as the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act to make it easier to share information with caregivers about a mentally ill person’s treatment. The Senate bill takes the smaller step of seeking to provide resources to educate people about what the existing regulations are.
Overall, the Senate bill seeks to improve coordination of mental health programs by granting new powers to an assistant secretary, sets up a new office to encourage the adoption of evidence-based programs, and authorizes grants for topics like integrating physical and mental health services, though the amount of the funding will depend on the appropriations process.