CQ: US Mental Health Bill May Move In Lame Duck Session

Cures Could Serve as Vehicle for Mental Health Care Changes
By Joe Williams, CQ Roll Call November 15, 2016

A package of biomedical innovation bills that congressional leaders hope to pass in the lame-duck session could serve as a vehicle to advance stalled mental health care legislation in the Senate.

“I know that there’s some interest in potentially putting the two together just in the interest of time, but that’s a decision above my pay grade,” Sen.Christopher S. Murphy, D-Conn., told CQ Roll Call. “I think there’s a lot of interest in getting our mental health bill done by the end of the year. I’m fairly agnostic as to how that happens ... so if it gets attached to something else, as long as it gets done that’s my priority.”

The House passed its own mental health care bill (HR 2646) earlier this year and passed the 21st Century Cures Act (HR 6) last year, with strong bipartisan votes. But activity in the Senate on both pieces of legislation has been stalled over disagreements on funding, among other things.

(NYAPRS: The Cures Act creates a $1.86 fund to take “steps to streamline clinical trials; advance personalized medicine by encouraging greater use of drug development tools, such as biomarkers; and creating incentives for developing drugs for uncommon but deadly diseases.”

Congressional aides say neither bill is expected to be taken up for a vote until after the Thanksgiving break.

Lobbyists say combining the two pieces of legislation, while a heavy lift, would allow lawmakers to pass two popular health care bills in what is expected to be a short lame-duck period. The tight calendar could ultimately stall the issues until next year.

Energy and Commerce ChairmanFred Uptonon Tuesday declined to say specifically whether the two pieces of legislation would move together.

“We’re working on both bills,” the Michigan Republican told CQ Roll Call.

A spokeswoman for Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions ChairmanLamar Alexandersaid mental health remains a priority for the Tennessee Republican.“[H]e is working with members on options to successfully pass legislation this year to

address our country’s mental health crisis,” the spokeswoman said in an emailed statement.

House SpeakerPaul D. Ryan, in an interview with a Wisconsin radio station earlier this week, listed both Cures and mental health as two things he would like to wrap up during the lame-duck session. Senate Majority LeaderMitch McConnellhas also listed Cures as a priority for the post-election time period.

Republican and Democratic staff for the Energy and Commerce Committee and HELP have been meeting regularly over the past few weeks in an attempt to negotiate a deal on the Cures package.

Congressional aides say the major disagreements between the two parties remain how to pay for funding for the National Institutes of Health and President Barack Obama’s cancer moonshot initiative. They also say Democrats have taken issue with legislation related to stem cell therapies that Republican lawmakers like McConnell are promoting.

Alexander on Tuesday said he remained optimistic that a deal could be reached.

“Of course it’ll have to move first in the House, but I’m encouraged that both the speaker and Senator McConnell have expressed support for it,” he told CQ Roll Call.

While a mental health bill passed 422-2 in the House earlier this year, a Senate version of that legislation (S 2680) was previously stalled over disagreements related to a measure on gun control pushed by Senate Majority WhipJohn Cornynof Texas.

The provision would allow individuals who were previously institutionalized but have since been deemed mentally competent by a judge to purchase firearms. Cornyn decided to stop pushing that language in the legislation, an aide for the lawmaker confirmed earlier this year.

Erin Mershon and Andrew Siddons contributed to this story.