Senator sees momentum for mental health reform

Getty Images

Sen. Chris MurphyChris MurphyCould Snapchat be the digital bridge to younger voters? Saudi skeptics gain strength in Congress Dems to McConnell: Bring up Trump tax bill MORE (D-Conn.) believes his bipartisan mental health reform bill is picking up momentum and will get a hearing later this month in the Senate health committee. 

ADVERTISEMENT
Murphy has introduced the bill with Republican Sen. Bill Cassidy (La.), and it is intended as companion legislation to a House bill championed by Rep. Tim Murphy (R-Pa.). 

“We feel like with a hearing scheduled in the HELP committee later this month, the first hearing in the HELP committee on mental health in three years, and that’s amazing to think about, that we’re poised to move this bill,” Sen. Murphy said at a forum hosted by National Journal on Wednesday. 

Rep. Murphy has cast his bill as a response to mass shootings. However, reflecting the sharp divide on gun control measures between the parties, Sen. Murphy cautioned that mental health is not enough to stop the violence. 

“We shouldn’t fool ourselves that we are going to cure the nation’s epidemic of gun violence by fixing a broken mental health system,” he said. 

Reflecting the momentum around mental health reform, the Senate’s No. 2 Republican, Sen. John CornynJohn CornynSenate Dems shun GOP vulnerables Congress steamrolls Obama's veto 78 lawmakers vote to sustain Obama veto MORE (Texas), has introduced a separate measure and is reaching out to Democrats on it. His bill, backed by the National Rifle Association, uses grants to incentivize states to send mental health records to the national background check database. 

The bills from Rep. Murphy and Sen. Murphy are broader and would remove barriers for Medicaid funding of mental health treatment, including a current ban on receiving physical and mental health services on the same day and limits on funding for treatment at mental health facilities. 

The measures would create a new assistant secretary for mental health to elevate the issue within the Department of Health and Human Services. 

The bills differ in that the House measure goes farther in changing health privacy laws established under the 1996 Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) to make it easier to share information with family members and caregivers. 

The House bill also uses grants to incentivize state assisted outpatient treatment (AOT) programs, which are controversial because they allow judges to mandate treatment for patients with serious mental illness. The Senate bill largely steers clear of further boosting the controversial program. 

Rep. Frank Pallone Jr. (N.J.), the top Democrat on the Energy and Commerce Committee, has objected to the HIPAA and AOT measures and is expected to be part of bipartisan negotiations in the committee to build off the measure. However, those negotiations have not yet started in earnest as the committee has been busy with other work. 

Murphy said his bill is bringing on bipartisan cosponsors in pairs and that they recently added Sen. Shelley Moore CapitoShelley Moore CapitoOvernight Tech: TV box plan faces crucial vote | Trump transition team to meet tech groups | Growing scrutiny of Yahoo security Senate committee to consider miner pension bill GOP pressures Kerry on Russia's use of Iranian airbase MORE (R-W.Va.) and Sen. Charles SchumerCharles SchumerCongress departs for recess until after Election Day Democrats press Wells Fargo CEO for more answers on scandal 78 lawmakers vote to sustain Obama veto MORE (N.Y.), the Senate’s No. 3 Democrat. 

“It’s not just the moderates working with the moderates,” Murphy said. “It’s really progressives, moderates, conservatives all together, and that will be a pretty important signal to leadership.”