New legislation aims to strengthen mental health system

Bipartisan Senate leaders prioritize improving outcomes for people with serious mental illness.

On Aug. 4, Senators Bill Cassidy, R-La., and Chris Murphy, D-Conn., introduced the Mental Health Reform Act of 2015. This legislation seeks to overhaul the U.S. mental health care system by making critical reforms to address disparities in patient access to treatment, enhance federal interagency coordination, foster integrated care and ultimately improve outcomes for patients with serious mental illness.

In a joint support letter (PDF, 64KB) to the sponsors of the bill, APA and the APA Practice Organization (APAPO) applauded the senators for their bipartisan leadership, and praised the legislation’s goals.

Provisions of the legislation include:

  • Identifying and removing barriers between mental and physical health care systems.
  • Allowing for mental health and primary care services to be billed the same day from the same location.
  • Renewing critical mental health programs under the jurisdiction of the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration.
  • Providing a limited repeal of the Medicaid Institutions for Mental Diseases exclusion on inpatient mental health care, which prohibits the use of federal Medicaid financing in nonhospital inpatient settings for people between the ages of 22 and 64.
  • Establishing new grant programs that address early intervention.
  • Clarifying the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act privacy law with regard to the sharing of health information to family members and caregivers of patients, and providing education and training for stakeholders.

“We look forward to working with Senators Cassidy and Murphy and their colleagues to advance the bill through the legislative process,” says APA Associate Executive Director for Government Relations Doug Walter, JD. “We believe the Mental Health Reform Act of 2015 will bolster and strengthen the fragmented mental health system and improve patient’s access to effective and evidence-based treatments.” 

A similar comprehensive mental health bill, supported by APA and APAPO was introduced in the House by Rep. Tim Murphy, R-Pa., in early June. While the House bill isn't identical to the Senate bill, it is considered a companion bill. House bill H.R. 2646 — the Helping Families in Mental Health Crisis Act — has gained more than 100 bipartisan cosponsors, and is expected to be reviewed in committee this fall. APAPO will keep members apprised of any updates through the PracticeUpdate e-newsletter.