Helping Families in Mental Health Crisis Act Passes House Vote
On July 6, 2016, the U.S. House of Representatives passed the Helping Families in Mental Health Crisis Act by an overwhelming vote of 422-2 (1).
The bill, known as H.R. 2646, started its road to the House of Representatives in 2013 as a response to the tragic Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting in Newtown, Connecticut. Following this tragedy, the Energy and Commerce Subcommittee embarked on a large-scale review of American mental health services that culminated in the creation of the bill.
Sponsored by Representative Tim Murphy (R-PA), a licensed child psychologist, the bill aims to expand services to the mentally ill in America and clarifies ideas of federal privacy laws for mental health professionals.
Specifically, the bill states that a mental health care provider wouldn’t be violating a patient’s privacy rights if they shared information with family members regarding an adult child, sibling or spouse (2). This key element of the bill is intended to help prevent tragic shootings where an individual’s family didn’t fully grasp the extent of their loved one’s mental illness or intentions to harm themselves and others.
The bill features numerous stipulations and provisions (3). In addition to addressing privacy and mental health providers, other components include:
- Expanding Medicare to include coverage for anti-psychotic medications
- Providing funds for measures such as training police on how to help those with severe mental illness, provide greater support for suicide prevention and expand outreach programs for those who suffer from mental illness
- Establishing a new position of Assistant Secretary for Mental Health and Substance Use Disorders in the federal government to increase awareness regarding mental health disorders. Ideally, the creation of this position would bring greater influence for mental health-related concerns.
The bill also outlines the use of telehealth services to enhance mental health care in traditionally underserved areas.
The Legislative Process
The bill will now progress to Senate review and likely a vote. The American Psychiatric Association is pushing for Senate approval before the end of 2016. The result of the initial vote indicates strong bipartisan support that will ideally prove enough to pass the bill through the Senate as well.
Evaluating the Bill’s Potential Impact
While few people disagree that America can benefit from improved mental health services, the Helping Families in Mental Health Crisis Act isn’t without its critics. A 2015 editorial on The Huffington Post stated that the act “invades the health privacy rights of students and all adults” (4). Other critics are doubtful these measures truly have the power to eradicate potential shootings and gun violence (5).
However, the bill’s passage in the House does indicate that mental illness and care for those suffering from mental health disorders have advocates in Congress.
“We are ending the era of stigma,” Representative Murphy said in a statement following the bill’s passage in the House. “Mental illness is no longer a joke, considered a moral defect and a reason to throw people in jail.”