UPDATE: Since posting this blog earlier today, POLITICO has published its story about the two dueling bills and has confirmed much of what I first reported this morning in my earlier blog. Here is POLITICO’s take on whether partisan politics is at play here. You will find a comparsion of the bills after the story.
Fears of slowed progress with new mental health bill
By PAIGE WINFIELD CUNNINGHAM
POLITICO 5/6/14 6:28 PM EDT
A new mental health bill proposed Tuesday by a group of House Democrats is stoking fears that it could hinder progress toward bipartisan reform.
While some advocates suggested the legislation could add to ideas already on the table from Republicans, others said they’re underwhelmed by the proposal and wonder why the Democrats felt a need to present it at all. And it was immediately blasted as a stripped-down, politically orchestrated effort by Rep. Tim Murphy of Pennsylvania, the GOP’s champion of a sweeping mental health reform bill.
The Democrats’ measure, led by Rep. Ron Barber of Arizona, comes six months after Murphy rolled out his far broader legislation. Murphy, chair of the House Energy and Commerce oversight subcommittee, took a year to write his bill after holding hearings on the issue. It has garnered support from 27 Democrats.
The Barber bill cuts about 70 percent of Murphy’s provisions, including reforms to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, expanded access to inpatient psychiatric care and revised privacy laws so parents can be informed if their adult child has an acute mental health crisis.
“Rather than work on a bipartisan effort, Ron Barber teamed up with Nancy Pelosi and Henry Waxman to simply maintain the status quo,” said Murphy chief of staff Susan Mosychuk, referring to the House minority leader and ranking member of the Energy and Commerce Committee, respectively. “It does nothing to help those with serious mental illness.”
Barber denied that Pelosi was behind his bill but didn’t elaborate further while introducing the proposal at a press conference Tuesday afternoon. He said he didn’t want to get into a “back and forth about this bill or that bill.”
“We’re here today to talk about our approach,” Barber said. “This shouldn’t be partisan, and anyone who makes it partisan I would say to them ‘think again.’ Perhaps along the way we’ll find some ways to bring some bills together, but right now we’re laying down markers.”
Many of the advocates backing Murphy’s bill say they’re dismayed by the Democratic alternative and how it could affect progress toward mental health reform in the wake of the 2012 Newtown, Conn., mass shooting.
“It was our hope this would not be a partisan issue, but unfortunately, it’s moving that direction,” said Andrew Sperling, director of legislative advocacy for the National Alliance on Mental Illness. “It’s not so much what’s in it but what is not in it,” he added. “There aren’t that many things anyone actually opposes — there are things missing.”
Murphy started working on his legislation after 20 children were killed at Newtown’s Sandy Hook Elementary School. But Barber has a very personal connection to mental health violence, having been wounded when his then-boss, former Rep. Gabby Giffords, was shot in an assassination attempt in 2011.
The Barber bill has also sparked some new tensions over a long-debated issue: whether to permit judges to order involuntary treatment for individuals who are severely mentally ill.
Murphy would condition federal mental health grants on states setting up programs with special mental health courts, which would be able to order community-based treatment for patients with a history of arrests, repeat hospitalizations and violence due to their disease. Involuntary care, which some say is coercive, isn’t addressed in Barber’s bill.
Groups that advocate for the severely mentally ill say that the small sliver of Americans who are unable to recognize their own mental illness need mandated treatment before they end up in worse settings — like on the street or in jail — or endanger themselves or others.
“Some people with mental illness hallucinate, they’re delusional, they may not know they’re ill,” said D.J. Jaffe, executive director of Mental Illness Policy Org. “Currently, we can’t treat these people until after they injure themselves or others. Barber’s bill ignores the issue.”
The measure will have less impact, said Doris Fuller, executive director of the Treatment Advocacy Center. It focuses on those who already have access to treatment because they’re well enough to seek it, and “that won’t help the individuals with mental illness who are most at risk of suffering the consequences of non-treatment,” she said.
Some Democrats agree that court-ordered care is necessary in specific cases but emphasize the need to make sure such patients get the best possible treatment. Former Democratic Rep. Patrick Kennedy, who has become a prominent spokesman for mental health reform, is in that camp.
Kennedy said he’s not rushing to judgment on the Barber bill and hopes both lawmakers will work together to resolve their differences. “I don’t subscribe to everything in (Murphy’s) bill,” he said. “The bottom line is that’s not how the legislative process works. You work to improve legislation at every stage.”
End of Politico story
Here is my earlier blog that lists a side-by-side comparison of the Democrats’ alternative mental health bill introduced yesterday in the House and Rep. Tim Murphy’s bi-partisan bill that the Democrats are hoping to derail. Thanks to Dr. Lloyd Sederer for sharing this with me.
(If you take time to read all 40 plus pages, I suspect, you will be doing more due diligence than the elected officials who may be voting on it!)
Section by Section Summary of Murphy Bill (H.R. 3717) “Helping Families in MH Crisis Act of 2013”and Democratic Discussion Bill entitled “Strengthening Mental Health in Our Communities Act”