Mental Health Reform Act of 2015 Proposes Overhaul to America’s Mental Health System

August 7, 2015 | By

On Tuesday, August 4, Senators Chris Murphy (D-Conn) and Bill Cassidy (R-La) introduced The Mental Health Reform Act of 2015. The bill proposes reforms to Medicare and Medicaid, introduces new grant programs, and enhances the federal government’s commitments to integrating physical and mental health and improving mental health services.

According to Murphy, the bill will “overhaul and strengthen America’s mental healthcare system.”

Key provisions of the bill include:

  • Reforms to Medicare/Medicaid. The bill removes rules prohibiting patients from using mental health services and primary care services at the same location, on the same day. It also repeals the current Medicaid exclusion on inpatient care for individuals between the ages of 22 and 64.
  • Grant Programs. Grants of up to $2 million for five years will be allocated to states demonstrating a commitment to integrating physical and mental health services. Other grant programs focus on early intervention for children at risk for developing mental illness and on collaboration between pediatricians and mental health teams.
  • New Roles, Committees, Entities. The bill establishes an Assistant Secretary for Mental Health and Substance Use Disorder within the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. The Assistant Secretary will oversee a new committee, the Serious Mental Illness Coordinating Committee. The bill creates the National Mental Health Policy Laboratory, which will oversee and fund the implementation and scaling of models of care for adults and children.
  • Mental Health Parity Enforcement. The bill requires the federal government to audit compliance with the Affordable Care Act’s insurance benefit parity requirement for physical health and mental health services.

The Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions is expected to hold a hearing on the bill this fall. Both Murphy and Cassidy are members of the committee.

The Senators represent states where mass shootings perpetrated by individuals with mental illness have made national headlines. In December of 2012, Adam Lanza shot and killed 26 children and staff members at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut. Last month, in Lafayette, Louisiana, John Russell Houser shot 11 people in a movie theater, killing two of them. Both men reportedly had histories of mental health issues.

While bipartisan agreement on gun control reform has been notoriously difficult, parties are supporting reforms to America’s mental health system. Murphy said, “We are failing millions of Americans, letting those with serious mental illness slip through the cracks, and a few are resorting to horrific acts of violence when their illness goes untreated.”

The bill has received widespread support from mental health organizations, such as the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) and the American Psychiatric Association (APA).

The Senators’ bill serves as a companion bill to The Helping Families in Mental Health Crisis Act, originally introduced by Congressman Tim Murphy (D-Pa) in December of 2013. Congressman Murphy re-introduced his bill in June of 2015 and is currently gathering co-sponsors for it. There are several differences between the House bill and the Senate bill. For example, the House bill provides grants for Assisted Outpatient Treatment (AOT), where a court can mandate a person follow a mental health treatment plan. The House bill also proposes changes to the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) for better coordination of care between providers and family members.

For more information on the Mental Health Reform Act of 2015, read the press release from Senator Chris Murphy (D-Conn).

Emily Hart is a rising 3L at Drexel University Thomas R. Kline School of Law, where she is a Staff Member of the Drexel Law Review and a Member of the Moot Court Board. She is a guest contributor to the Health Law Gurus™ blog.