- After being delayed since 2013, the controversial mental health bill, The Helping Families in Mental Health Crisis Act, (H.R. 2646) was introduced earlier this week by Rep. Tim Murphy (R-PA) after revising several parts objected to by Democrats on the House Energy and Commerce Health Subcommittee.
- A key part of the bill which provides incentives to states that adopt assisted outpatient treatment (AOT), whereby judges can mandate treatment for those with serious mental health issues, remains controversial and one Democrats still object. The updated version clarifies federal funds will not be rescinded in states that do not have AOT laws, but rather states that do have the laws will receive a 2% increase in funding.
- Another controversial part of the bill are changes to HIPAA with the goal of giving caregivers and family members access to more information about person with mental health issue's care. Democrats object to this, saying the loss of privacy may deter individuals with mental health issues from getting care.
Raymond Bridge, public policy director for the National Coalition for Mental Health Recovery, told Modern Healthcare the bill doesn't do enough to increase the number of providers, social workers and case managers available, and more funding should be used for housing, crisis prevention, and community mental health services.
Close to 20 House Democrats said in a letter sent last month to the Chairman of the Energy and Commerce Committee they support a state's right to have AOT but don't think funding should be used to incentivize it. They added those who are not a harm to themselves or to others should not be forced into treatment and also expressed concerns it would be used disproportionately on minority populations. Rep. Frank Pallone (D-NJ) said the amended bill cuts essential funding, stigmatizes mental health issues, reduces privacy protection, and doesn't help promote Medicaid expansion. "This legislation takes us back to outdated and biased treatment," he said.
However, the bill does have some bipartisan support. Forty-three of the 154 co-sponsors are Democrats.