Murphy touts game-changing mental health law

December 20, 2016

Rep. Tim Murphy called legislation signed into law last week a “game-changer” in the nation’s $130 billion-a-year system for providing mental health services.Murphy, R-Upper St. Clair, and Sens. Bill Cassidy, R-La., and Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn., spoke to reporters Monday by phone about Murphy’s Helping Families in Mental Health Crisis Act, which became law last week when elements of it were included in the 21st Century Cures Act that was signed by President Obama. The legislation also includes measures adding billions in new funding for medical research and other new health care legislation.Murphy, a practicing psychologist, headed a congressional investigation into mental systems in the wake of the December 2013 mass shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newton, Conn., that killed 20 children and six adult staff, but said his efforts were “really inspired” by the seriousness of the problems in mental health services found across the country.Alexander and Cassidy helped push the legislation through the Senate.The legislation includes measures meant to address that lack of coordination among providers and agencies. Among the elements of Murphy’s proposal that made it into the final legislation are new positions in the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services.Administration - part of the Department of Health and Human Services - whose jobs include working with other federal agencies and disseminating research findings among mental health providers.“Mental health is this huge, complex and interwoven system of federal, state and local initiatives,” Cassidy said, going on to describe that apparatus as “very poorly coordinated.“Murphy’s initial proposal included changes to the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act to allow for “compassionate communication” between care providers and families of adults with serious mental illness; providers would have been able to disclose diagnosis, treatment plans and some other information related to patients’ treatment to their parents.The version that made it to Obama’s desk doesn’t include changes to the law, but does direct the Department of Health and Human Services to clarify what records those treating people for substance use disorders or mental illness may disclose.“I expect to come back to HIPAA in the future,” Murphy said.Cassidy said he would also have preferred a “safe harbor” in privacy laws.“With that said, more can be communicated than is commonly thought,” Cassidy said. “I do think clarity will accomplish a lot.“Asked by one reporter about what elements of the legislation Republicans would prioritize as they work to repeal the Affordable Care Act, Cassidy said he doesn’t “see Obamacare as competing” with it.Alexander, chairman of the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions committee, said states would have more responsibility in the provision of mental health programs.“Our entire goal is to move more decisions out of Washington and back into the hands of states and consumers,” Alexander said.