A new bill aimed at making major changes to how mental health is treated in the United States was introduced Aug. 4 in the Senate.
Dubbed “ The Mental Health Reform Act of 2015 ,” the bill aims to increase the resources available to treat mental illness, improve coordination of care, and encourage the development of solutions to help families dealing with mental illness.
The bill, introduced by Sen. Bill Cassidy (R-La.), a physician, and Sen. Chris Murphy (D-Conn.), would require states to identify barriers that prevent the integration of physical and mental health and provide up to $2 million in grants for 5 years to help eliminate those barriers. A grant program aimed at early intervention for children as young as 3 years old who show significant risk factors for mental illness would be developed under the legislation. Under that provision, pediatrician consultation with mental health teams would be supported, and Massachusetts and Connecticut would be used as models.
Other key research and grant programs, such as the Community Mental Health Block Grant program and state-based data collection, would be renewed under the bill, and funding for biomedical research on mental health would be increased.
On the policy side, the legislation would create an assistant secretary for mental health and substance abuse within the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services, develop a national mental health policy laboratory to fund innovation grants to identify new models of mental health care, and strengthen transparency and enforcement of mental health parity laws. It also would allow Medicare/Medicaid patients to use mental health services and primary care services at the same location on the same day.
“The nation’s mental health system needs reform and investment, and we applaud Senators Murphy and Cassidy for this comprehensive reform initiative,” Dr. Saul Levin, CEO and medical director of the American Psychiatric Association , said in a statement. “We will work with legislators on both sides of the aisle to accomplish mental health reform.”
In addition to APA, the measure has received endorsement from numerous mental health organizations, including the American Psychological Association, the National Alliance on Mental Illness, the National Association of State Mental Health Program Directors, the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, and the National Association of Psychiatric Health Systems. Adventist HealthCare also has expressed its support of the measure.
The Senate bill follows a similar reform effort, the Helping Families in Mental Health Crisis Act ( H.R. 2646 ), introduced in June in the House by Rep. Tim Murphy (R-Pa.).