A new bill was introduced in the U.S. House of Representatives earlier this month entitled The Strengthening Mental Health in Our Communities Act (HR 4574). It is a breath of fresh air compared to Rep. Murphy’s offensive and regressive “Helping Families in Mental Health Crisis Act” (HR 3717).
The new bill is sponsored by Congressman Ron Barber (AZ), and is co-sponsored by Rep. Diana DeGette (CO), Rep. Doris Matsui (CA), Rep. Grace Napolitano (CA), and Rep. Paul Tonko (NY). It is supported by more than a dozen advocacy, professional and non-profit organizations, including Mental Health America, the American Psychological Association, the American Association for Marriage and Family Therapy, and the National Association of School Psychologists, as well as The Bazelon Center for Mental Health Law.
Of course, Murphy’s office hates the new bill. But they don’t offer any reasonable or logical objections to it, since the two bills share a lot of overlap. The Barber bill, however, removes the controversial and unneeded forced treatment, privacy-busting and SAMHSA-gutting provisions.
Let’s parse out the nonsensical, knee-jerk objections to the new bill from Republicans:
“The Barber-Pelosi bill suffers from a serious case of denial,”1 said Susan Mosychuk, Murphy’s chief of staff. “It denies inpatient and outpatient treatment options to those who are experiencing an acute mental health crisis.”
Murphy’s representative is basically claiming the Barber bill will remove some sort of treatment options. What Murphy is referring to is forcing the states to pass new outpatient forced-treatment laws, even if the state’s citizens don’t want them.
That’s not “denying” anything to anybody — that’s leaving the matter up to the states, where it should be.2
It denies families the opportunity to be part of the care team and help their loved ones with serious mental illness.
This part is true, since it has no “let’s overrule HIPAA’s privacy protections” provision as the Murphy bill does. But trashing HIPAA privacy rules has little to do with improving mental health treatment in the U.S.
Barber’s new bill doesn’t carve out a HIPAA exception for family members — keeping it completely in sync and equal with other medical and healthcare concerns.
And it denies the reality that the lead federal agency, the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, has failed in its mission. It’s almost as if the Barber bill wants to deny that people with severe and persistent mental illness exist. Denial doesn’t work for substance abuse, and denial won’t work for the families whose loved ones are in a mental health crisis.3
Unfortunately, the only folks who believe SAMHSA has “failed in its mission” is Murphy’s office. Most people still believe that SAMHSA is doing a great job with its mission and that its primary problems stem from the federal budget cuts more than anything else.
Murphy’s own report shows that the federal government today spends about $130 billion on mental health research, treatment, analytics, and prevention. Not including the military, of that amount, only about $3 billion is targeted to helping actually treat people with mental illness. Murphy’s bill would focus on rearranging the deck chairs for just $1 billion of that money — a mere 0.76% of the total funding.
Really tackling the big problems, are we? What an amazing disconnect.
“The Democrat bill will do nothing to prevent the next Jared Loughner, James Holmes, or Adam Lanza because it does nothing to help those with serious mental illness and continues funding the SAMHSA constituency of legal advocates and anti-psychiatry activists who use taxpayer dollars to force patients out of treatment,” Mosychuk added.
In truth, nothing Congress does can or will stop the next mass murderer from going on a killing spree. Nothing.
Congress likes to think it has that sort of power — “Hey, we’ll just pass a bill, and it’ll solve this problem.” It is idealistic thinking at best. There is little connection to passing a bill and stopping rare, one-off crimes from occurring.
It’s also a sad, sloppy attempt at suggesting that people with serious mental illness are at higher risk for violence, when the research clearly demonstrates otherwise.4
“Chairman Murphy went to great lengths to work with members to fix our broken mental health system, but rather than work on a bipartisan effort, Ron Barber teamed up with Nancy Pelosi and Henry Waxman to simply maintain the status quo. Dr. Murphy is advancing real medical solutions; the Democrats are offering a placebo.”
Wow, pulling out the medical card there, eh? What “real medical solutions” is Murphy offering? Violating patient’s privacy rights. Instituting a whole new federal bureaucracy to oversee handing out state grants that’s currently handled by an existing bureaucracy (but one that has fallen out of favor of Murphy’s office). And tying new money to states for mental illness treatment to their falling in line with his federal mandates.
There’s not a single “real medical solution” in Murphy’s bill. It’s a politically-motivated bill that only seeks to give more power to any person who isn’t the actual patient. If we were having this discussion about cancer patients or people with diabetes, it would be a non-starter.
Murphy has shown that he’s happy to discriminate against a group of people he doesn’t believe have the same Constitutional rights as other citizens — people with a mental illness.
His unbridled prejudice against this group is especially sad given he’s a psychologist too.
Psych Central supports Rep. Barber’s reasonable alternative, “The Strengthening Mental Health in Our Communities Act (HR 4574).” Barber’s bill keeps the money where it needs to be — in SAMHSA — and doesn’t suggest patients with a mental illness don’t deserve to enjoy the same respect, due process, and privacy rights as people with other kinds of health conditions.
Read the overview of the bill: H.R. 4574: The Strengthening Mental Health in Our Communities Act
- Is this supposed to be some sort of tongue-in-cheek joke, since we’re talking about a mental health bill? If so, it was in poor taste from a Congressional representative. And offensive to people with mental illness. [↩]
- It’s amusing to see Republicans be pro-state’s rights when it suits them, but happy to have the federal government override state’s wishes when it’s politically convenient for them to do so. [↩]
- Again with the inappropriate joke about “denial.” Seriously, the Congressman needs to hire people who don’t make light of the treatment of people with mental illness. [↩]
- Murphy’s report repeatedly mentions this connection, while acknowledging that people with mental illness are far more likely to be victims of crime rather than perpetrators. Tellingly, Murphy’s bill does nothing to help people with mental illness who are victims of crime. [↩]