Senate committee approves mental health billNews added by Benefits Pro on March 9, 2016

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By Jack Craver

The U.S. Senate moved closer Monday to approving legislation aimed at addressing many of the nation’s unaddressed mental health needs.

However, many mental health advocates will likely describe the bill that was passed by the Senate Health Committee as watered-down, as it lacks many critical elements that were included in a more ambitious bill originally proposed by Representative Tim Murphy, a Republican from Pennsylvania.

Murphy’s bill included a provision that would have granted judges more power to mandate a patient’s participation in an out-patient treatment program and give caregivers, including parents of adult children, more access to the patient’s health records in certain circumstances. The provision raised concerns from privacy advocates and members of Congress on both sides of the aisle.

The bill that emerged from the health committee instead lays out broader goals by empowering a new assistant secretary of health to dole out grants aimed at treatment and research and foster cooperation between public health agencies, such as Medicaid and Medicare, on mental illness efforts.

Republican Senator Lamar Alexander of Tennessee, chair of the Senate Health Committee, nevertheless touted the bill as a significant step forward in the fight against mental illness and the societal problems associated with it.

“One in five adults in this country suffers from a mental illness, and nearly 60 percent aren’t receiving the treatment they need,” he said in a statement. “This bill will help address this crisis by ensuring our federal programs and policies incorporate proven, scientific approaches to improve care for patients. States like Tennessee and local governments are on the forefront in treating mental illness and substance abuse, and this legislation will support their efforts so people can get the help they need.”

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