Senator sees momentum for mental health reform

Senator sees momentum for mental health reform
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Sen. Chris MurphyChris MurphySenate Dems step up protests ahead of ObamaCare repeal vote Dems push for more action on power grid cybersecurity Senate panel demands Trump's legal rationale for shooting Syrian jet 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. 

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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 adds penalty for going uninsured to healthcare bill The Hill's 12:30 Report Cornyn: GOP won't delay ObamaCare repeal vote 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 CapitoFive takeaways from the CBO score on Senate ObamaCare bill Trump phones Senate holdouts on GOP healthcare bill GOP’s message on ObamaCare is us versus them MORE (R-W.Va.) and Sen. Charles SchumerCharles SchumerSenate Dems step up protests ahead of ObamaCare repeal vote Senate Dems plan floor protest ahead of ObamaCare repeal vote Dem senator: Don't bet against McConnell on ObamaCare repeal 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.”