Murphy’s Revised Bill Unanimously Passes House Committee: Long Awaited Victory for Psychologist Congressman


D. J. Jaffe who strongly backed Rep. Murphy’s mental health bill joins others in the hearing giving Murphy a standing ovation. 

(6-15-16) As expected, the House Energy and Commerce Committee, chaired by Rep. Fred Upton (R-MI), passed bipartisan mental health legislation by a unanimous vote of 53-0 today. The bill – House Resolution 2646, the Helping Families in Mental Health Crisis Act, was introduced by Oversight and Investigations Subcommittee Chairman Tim Murphy (R-PA) in the wake of the tragedy in Newtown, Connecticut.

What the committee passed is known as an amendment in the nature of a substitute (AINS) which in laymen’s terms means legislation that has been greatly revised after months of everyone arguing about it.

While the compromise bill negotiated by Chairman Upton doesn’t contain several of Murphy’s most controversial proposals, Murphy said he never wavered from his original objectives. (see video.)  You can read my earlier blog about what was cut from his original bill here.

Murphy has been relentless and tireless in pushing for mental health reform since 2013, saying he wanted the legislation to be one of his legacies. He is widely credited with getting Congress to undertake its first serious effort in decades to reform our broken mental health system.

The Murphy bill now mirrors a Senate bill that originally was a spin off of his legislation. It was introduced by Sen. Chris Murphy (D-Conn.) and Sen. Bill Cassidy (R-La.). Once both pass their respective chambers, the two bills will be meshed into one for a vote before being sent to the president for his signature, making it a law.

I received several celebratory emails from readers who lobbied for  the bill’s passage. I also received a telephone call from a person with mental illness who was distraught because she felt the bill will strip her of non-medical services, a common concern raised by opponents.

“We need more than medical solutions. People need recovery oriented programs that help someone with something as simple as finding a friend who can go to a movie with them,” she said. “Murphy’s bill will end all of that because those services will not be judged evidence based but are still necessary for us to feel connections and be human.”

Murphy has said his bill will not cut treatment services that help people recover but it will stop frivolous  SAMHSA spending. During a series of hearings, Murphy cited examples of SAMHSA funded projects that he described as being anti- psychiatry and wasteful.

One example was a workshop called “Unleash the Beast” that promised to help attendees learn about mental illness by studying animal movements. SAMHSA’s former Chief Medical Officer recently published a scathing article that said top agency managers at SAMHSA were openly hostile toward the use of psychiatric medicine, refused to focus on helping the seriously mentally ill, and questioned whether bipolar disorder and schizophrenia were even real, arguing that psychosis is just a “different way of thinking for someone experiencing stress.”

Much of Murphy’s efforts were aimed at redirecting the agency.

One of the biggest victories for Murphy is creation of an Assistant Secretary for Mental Health and Substance Abuse inside the Department of Health and Human Services. Currently, the highest ranking mental health and substance abuse federal official is the head of SAMHSA. If signed into law, the legislation will put SAMHSA under the direction of the new Assistant Secretary who must be either a psychiatrist or psychologist (Phd.) with extensive experience in mental health and/or substance abuse care. SAMHSA was previously headed by an attorney.

The bill also requires SAMHSA and other federal programs that deal with mental health and substance abuse to focus on “evidence based” programs that have been certified as being effective. Again, this tightening is aimed at forcing SAMHSA to focus more on science than what Murphy described as “feel good” programs for the worried well.

The new bill also would create a National Mental Health and Substance Use Policy Laboratory to research what works and doesn’t work when it comes to treating persons with mental illnesses and substance abuse with a focus on metrics – yet another attempt to narrow SAMHSA’s past spending habits and programs.

To insure that the Assistant Director doesn’t go astray and that the federal government continues to view mental health and substance abuse as important issues, the legislation creates an interdepartmental serious mental illness coordinating committee that will include top federal officials and 14 members from the public, including two persons with lived mental health and/or substance abuse experiences and one family member with a loved one who had mental health and/or substance abuse problems.

Although the legislation, as written, does not loosen the Health Information Portability and Accountability Act, it does call for the government to undertake a study of HIPAA to determine what future changes might be made that would allow caregivers limited access to a loved one’s medical information without their consent when they are incapacitated.

Except for a few minor differences the Senate and House bills are identical which should make the two versions easy to merge together. Mental Health America, The National Alliance on Mental illness and the American Psychiatric Association all have endorsed the new legislation.

“Today’s vote on passage of H.R. 2646 and reporting the bill out of Committee is a historic moment for families in mental health crisis and for the millions of Americans trapped in our nation’s broken mental health system,” said Murphy. “Delivering evidence-based treatment is how we will finally conquer stigma surrounding mental illness, and this bipartisan bill transforms the federal government’s approach to mental health. This bill calls for a complete overhaul of the current federal system, refocusing resources on helping those with the most serious mental illnesses by getting them treatment before, during and after a psychiatric crisis. I couldn’t be prouder of the work of the bipartisan coalition in Congress, and I eagerly look forward to the bill’s consideration on the House Floor.”

About the author:

Pete Earley is the bestselling author of such books as The Hot House and Crazy. When he is not spending time with his family, he tours the globe advocating for mental health reform.

Learn more about Pete.