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Senate Health Committee Passes Mental Health Reform Act

Andrew Harnik

On Wednesday the U.S. Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions passed a bipartisan bill to make it easier for Americans with mental illness and substance use disorders to get health care. The legislation was introduced in August last year by Senator Bill Cassidy (R-La.) and Senator Chris Murphy (D-Conn.). It’s called the Mental Health Reform Act.

Among other things, the bill would require federal agencies to use mental health treatment programs that are based on the latest research. And it would enforce laws that require private health insurers to give equal mental and physical health insurance benefits to their customers.

Murphy says, “We’ve got a law on the books that says you have to have a mental health benefit that equates to your physical benefit, but what we’ve learned is that’s not how it works. So what we’ve put into this legislation are new guidelines for insurance companies, and audits for plans that routinely show an inability to meet the requirements of the underlying law.”

Murphy says he’s pleased both parties came together so the bill could pass the committee. But there’s something else he wants to see: money. He says the Senate needs to increase funding for inpatient and outpatient mental health care for people on programs like Medicaid.

“There’s still work to do here -- this committee doesn’t have jurisdiction over funding, and so we have to go to the floor with, I hope, a bipartisan commitment to come up with new resources to make sure that we’re addressing the severe lack of inpatient and outpatient capacity,” Murphy said.

The bill is now before the Senate.