Week ahead: Mental healthcare reform comes into focus

The bipartisan duo of Sens. Chris Murphy (D-Conn.) and Bill Cassidy (R-La.) is seeing some momentum in an effort to reform the mental healthcare system, giving hope to House members who have long failed to advance a similar bill.

After a series of speeches in recent weeks, the senators will take part in a hearing on the issue Thursday by the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) Committee. Witnesses include Kana Enomoto, acting administrator of the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), and National Institute of Mental Health Director Thomas Insel.

{mosads}The senators have been gathering co-sponsors from both parties for their mental health legislation, which they’ve described as a companion effort to the House bill, but one that steers clear of some of its more controversial provisions such as involuntary treatment and the elimination of SAMHSA.

The House bill, led by longtime mental health champion Rep. Tim Murphy (R-Pa.), has 149 co-sponsors but has struggled to gain support from leadership. Cassidy and Sen. Murphy are hoping to get their bill marked up by the end of the year.

Meanwhile, 30 members wrote a letter to House Energy and Commerce leadership this week asking them to schedule a markup.

An Energy and Commerce panel spokesman said a markup could come in “the coming weeks” and that the committee is awaiting a cost estimate from the Congressional Budget Office. Some Democrats oppose the bill as is and are hoping for progress in bipartisan talks.  

Both efforts face some resistance from Democrats and mental health advocates including the National Coalition for Mental Health Recovery. They have raised concerns with involuntary treatment provisions, which they say could further stigmatize people with mental illnesses, as well as the promotion of inpatient treatment in hospitals, which they fear takes away from community-based treatment.

Also on Thursday, advocates from several mental health groups, including the American Psychiatric Association and the National Alliance on Mental Illness will make a push for criminal justice reform to keep people with serious mental health problems out of prison.


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