This week, 422 members of Congress joined together to pass the most significant reform of America’s mental health system in decades.
In the aftermath of the tragedy at Sandy Hook, we learned the perpetrator had a long history of untreated mental illness. This prompted an investigation into America’s mental health system by Congressman Tim Murphy and the House Energy and Commerce Committee, searching for ways to ensure we deliver treatment before tragedy.
Following a tragedy, political leaders often promise “golden ticket” solutions at photo ops. Too often, these “fixes” create more problems than they solve.
In contrast, The Helping Families in Mental Health Crisis Act (H.R. 2646), which I co-sponsored, is the result of Congressman Murphy’s yearlong investigation, public forums, hearings with expert witnesses, budget reviews, hours of bipartisan negotiations, listening sessions with relevant parties, and productive compromise.
The untangling of federal mental health bureaucracy isn’t glamorous work, but it’s how you develop real solutions.
Specifically, our legislation establishes a new assistant wecretary for Mental Health and Substance Abuse to better coordinate mental health programs across the federal government. Why? The Government Accountability Office has found the 112 federal programs intended to address mental illness are not connecting for effective service and “interagency coordination for programs supporting individuals with serious mental illness is lacking.” For our mental health programs to be the most effective, they need to work together and share information.
We also ensure the effectiveness of these programs by requiring the president to prioritize filling this position with an experienced doctor who has clinical and research experience in mental health and substance abuse, rather than another government bureaucrat.
To spend your tax dollars more effectively, our legislation creates a National Mental Health and Substance Abuse lab to award grants based on evidence-based practices. We also provide for increased Medicaid and private insurance coverage of mental health services, including preventative care services for children.
Local sheriffs have told me medical privacy laws sometime make it difficult to obtain the necessary information to help or protect someone with mental illness. Privacy concerns must be balanced with safety concerns, which is why this legislation directs the secretary of Health and Human Services to clarify when communication can take place in accordance with HIPPA privacy rules between providers, patients, and caregivers for those with serious mental illness.
As your congressman, I am committed to fiscal responsibility. All new spending in this legislation is fully offset by cutting wasteful spending elsewhere in the budget, with a net deficit reduction of $5 million.
No bill is perfect or will solve all our problems, but the Helping Families in Mental Health Crisis Act represents substantive bipartisan action on an important issue and will make a positive difference in our community.
Robert Pittenger, a Republican from Charlotte, represents the 9th District in the U.S. House, which includes all of Robeson County.