BNA: Senate Committee Pledges Bipartisan Push on Mental Health

NYAPRS Note: In the wake of a hearing on looking at several US Senate mental health bills, several leaders expressed a commitment to consider, if not move, proposals first advanced by Congressman Tim Murphy, to allow Medicaid funding for state and private psychiatric hospitals and to train providers about greater latitude they currently have to share patient information. Stay tuned….

Senate Committee Pledges Bipartisan Push on Mental Health  (BNA Healthcare Daily)

Development: Members of Senate HELP Committee express optimism for bipartisan mental health reform.

Next Step: Multiple bills are under consideration, and committee Chairman Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.) says the committee will move quickly.

Jan. 20 (BNA) -- Members of the Senate health committee Jan. 20 pledged to work quickly toward a bipartisan mental health reform package.

Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.), chairman of the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee, said during a hearing that the committee plans to “move promptly” to bring bipartisan reform recommendations before the full committee. Alexander said the HELP Committee will look at legislation introduced by Sens. Chris Murphy (D-Conn.) and Bill Cassidy (R-La.), while the Senate Judiciary Committee and Finance Committee examine legislation introduced by Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas).

“Not everything the Senate may want to do is within the jurisdiction of this committee,” Alexander said, but lawmakers are working together.

All lawmakers and witnesses during the hearing said the federal government needs to do more to help providers and states to better deal with mental illness. “The silos that exist between mental health care and physical health care don't match patients’ realities—an

After the hearing, Cassidy told Bloomberg BNA he felt the hearing was a positive development. He said the issues discussed during the hearing by mental health advocates—such as reforming privacy laws, coordination between federal agencies and changes to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration—were all included in his legislation.

Cassidy said he thinks legislation reauthorizing SAMHSA would be the primary vehicle to enact reforms, and his bill (S. 1945) could be added on to it. “So I think the question is how do we add ours to that which they are doing? We're entering into a series of meetings about that,” he said. No mark-up date has been set, but he said he's cautiously optimistic it will happen soon.

Medicaid Payment

Lawmakers and advocates also agreed that Medicaid needs to cover services delivered at inpatient mental health facilities. Since Medicaid first was established, it has been prohibited from funding adult treatment at institutes of mental disease (IMD).

A demonstration project under the Affordable Care Act that would allow states to pay for the care with Medicaid has shown success, lawmakers and advocates said, and it should be expanded nationwide.

Lawmakers at the hearing also showed a willingness to address changes to the training for providers on how they interpret the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act. Penelope Blake, an emergency department nurse, testified of an instance where she couldn't notify a father that his unconscious son was safe in the emergency room because of HIPAA.

Alexander suggested that could be changed, and asked for recommendations on an exemption for nurses.

“Touching HIPAA is like touching an electric wire, but maybe that's what we're paid to do sometimes. So as we look at our mental health legislation, we should consider that story and that circumstance. Given how we work on this committee, maybe we can work on that,” Alexander said.