The Helping Families in Mental Health Crisis Act
of 2015 (H.R. 2646)
Mental illnesses are widely prevalent in the United States. Sixty million Americans live with a diagnosable psychiatric or substance use disorder, and 13 million Americans live with a serious or severe psychiatric disorder. Despite recent gains in medical research and public awareness, ensuring treatment for psychiatric and substance use disorders remains a challenging task for physicians and patients alike, unnecessarily complicated by wide-ranging factors that include fragmented delivery and reimbursement systems, regulatory barriers, workforce shortages, and the enduring stigma surrounding mental health and substance use disorders. This is why system-wide reforms are necessary.
Bipartisan legislation introduced in Congress by Representatives Tim Murphy, PhD (R-PA) and Eddie Bernice Johnson (D-TX) titled the Helping Families in Mental Health Crisis Act (H.R. 2646) will address these challenges by promoting evidence-based psychiatric care and research activities, ensuring better coordination of federal mental health resources, addressing the critical psychiatric workforce shortage, and improving enforcement of mental health parity, among other notable provisions. The new bill builds on the version they introduced during the last Congressional session, and it includes helpful new language on enforcement of the Mental Health Parity and Addiction Equity Act as well provisions that would address psychiatric workforce shortages, among other changes.
Among the many important policy proposals that H.R. 2646 advances, the bill would bring critical improvements and investments in our mental health system by:
- Better coordinating and up-leveling fragmented mental health resources across federal departments and agencies through the establishment of an Assistant Secretary for Mental Health and Substance Use Disorders within the Department of Health and Human Services who must be a highly qualified mental health clinician. The duties and priorities of the proposed Assistant Secretary would emphasize promotion of science-driven and evidence-based approaches to care.
- Addressing the critical psychiatric workforce shortage by instituting a “Nationwide Strategy” to increase the psychiatric workforce and recruit medical professionals for the treatment of individuals with serious mental illness and substance use disorders. Moreover, H.R. 2646 would fix barriers to participation of child and adolescent psychiatrists in the National Health Service Corp and explicitly authorizes the Minority Fellowship Program.
- Substantially improving enforcement of the Mental Health Parity and Addiction Equity Act by requiring annual reports to Congress on parity compliance investigations from federal departments, tasking the proposed Assistant Secretary with coordinating all programs and activities related to parity in health insurance benefits, and requiring the Government Accountability Office to investigate compliance of the parity law.
- Increasing funding for the National Institute of Mental Health in support of important research on brain disorders, innovative treatments and technologies, and the determinants of self and other-directed violence.
- Supporting funding for innovative models of care that have the power to reduce long-term disability for individuals with severe mental illness including the Recovery After an Initial Schizophrenia Episode (RAISE) program, which helps individuals with schizophrenia to lead productive, independent lives while aiming to reduce financial impacts on public systems.
The next steps in the movement of comprehensive mental health reform include Reps. Murphy and Johnson working with the leadership of the House Energy & Commerce Committee to advance the bill towards a Committee vote, while they also continue to collaborate with Senators Chris Murphy (D-CT) and Bill Cassidy, M.D. (R-LA) on the quickly developing Senate version. The APA will remain deeply engaged in lobbying both bodies as they work towards possible Committee votes followed by possible House and Senate Floor votes in the coming months or beyond.
Additional resources on comprehensive mental health reform
Rep. Murphy Addresses APA Assembly, May 2014