In the wake of high-profile gun violence, seemingly often predicated on mental illness, mental health care has become a bipartisan topic of conversation in Congress. From mental health in schools to more coordinated care technology, both states and the federal government are pushing for change.
One such congressman is Rep. Tim Murphy, R-Pa. On Dec. 12, Murphy proposed new legislation that would aim to improve access to mental health resources and services to Americans. According to PoliticsPA, Murphy is a clinical psychologist, and the proposed law is part of an effort to stop those with mental illness from hurting themselves or others.
Murphy was a moderate voice during the discussions about gun violence that followed in the wake of the Sandy Hook school shooting in Newtown, Conn. He was appointed to a bipartisan committee tasked with reviewing the nation’s mental health program. But he drew more attention for attempting to find a middle ground in the debate over gun control measures, according to PoliticsPA. Murphy said that the emphasis, fiscally, should be placed on better mental health programs.
Having practiced psychology for 30 years prior his time in Congress, Murphy is a respected voice on the issue. He has also written a book, “Angry Child,” which tackles how parents and home environments influence children’s mental health.
What Murphy’s bill means for health care
National Journal, reporting on the legislation, noted that mental health remains a consistent factor in recent shootings. Adam Lanza in Newtown, Conn., James Holmes in Aurora, Colo., and Aaron Alexis at the Washington D.C. Navy Yard all had checkered histories. Perhaps a health system with stronger coordinated care platforms could have raised red flags and provided one of these men the assistance he needed. Murphy’s bill addresses this topic head on.
“Those who need help the most are getting it the least because the nation’s mental health system is broken,” Murphy said, quoted by PoliticsPA. “Too many individuals with mental illness are ending up on the street or in jail because of mental illness. We must no longer be silent on need to help the mentally ill because millions of families are struggling with a son, daughter, or loved one who is sick and needs help.”
Murphy’s bill came about following a year of investigating the current U.S. mental health system. What he discovered were numerous systemic issues which kept those in need of care from getting it.
Called the “Helping Families in Mental Health Crisis Act,” the bill aims to reform Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act laws that currently keep doctors from communicating with the parents of adult patients who are dealing with mental illness. It also aims to increase access to inpatient beds in psychiatric hospitals for those with severe mental illness. According to National Journal, the bill will attempt to establish court-ordered “assisted outpatient treatment.” This alternative to traditional inpatient care is a growing trend in mental health care. It allows those will mental illnesses to engage with and contribute to their communities, while remaining within a circle of coordinated care.
Other initiatives pushed forward by the bill are protections on certain drug classes that would enable Medicaid and Medicare patients to get them, and a push for advanced telemedicine in rural areas, allowing patients without easy access to mental health services to talk to psychiatrists and psychologists. It also proposes behavioral awareness programs, which would be targeted at teens and work to reduce and eventually erase mental illness stigmas.
Interestingly, the bill also proposes a major administrative change. According to National Journal, passed into law, Murphy’s legislation would create the position of an assistant secretary for mental health within the U.S. Health and Human Services Department. This individual would work with the National Institute for Mental Health as well as providers across the country. The bill would in turn give NIMH control over President Obama’s “BRAIN initiative” – an academic/education program aimed at mapping every neuron in the human brain.
Potentially revolutionary, the bill is getting positive attention.
“The reception that he’s gotten from colleagues is that they’re ready,” said a senior aide, according to National Journal.
“[The bill] is aimed at really giving our mental health system the biggest reforms since John Kennedy was president,” said Murphy, according to CBS News.