The Mental Health Reform Act of 2016

Though 1 in 5 Americans has a mental health condition, in the past year, approximately half of Americans with mental illness did not receive any mental health care. As the year winds to a close, before the transition to the new administration, an opportunity remains to move mental health reform forward.

The US House of Representatives passed HR2646 by an overwhelming majority. Here are some highlights of HR2646, the Helping Families in Mental Health Crisis Act of 2016:

  • This legislation combats suicide by authorizing the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline into a federal statute. [To learn more about eating disorders and suicide read this related post. For NYC residents, also learn about the NYC Well initiative launched in 2016.]
  • It supports an increase in the workforce of mental health providers by (1) creating a minority fellowship program, (2) including child and adolescent mental health specialists in that National Health Service corps loan repayment program and (3) supports advancement in tele-mental health, particularly for pediatric populations.

The Mental Health Reform Act of 2016 currently awaiting a vote in the US Senate (S2680) closely parallels the Act passed by the House of Representatives and strengthens the mental health care system in a number of ways:

  • It supports an investment in early intervention in the form of grants for (1) effective early childhood mental health programs and (2) evidence-based programs to address early severe mental illness including psychotic disorders.
  • The Act helps strengthen community response systems so that people experiencing a psychiatric emergency can get assistance sooner.
  • The Act supports the integration of physical and mental health care, specifically by permitting same-day billing of health, mental health, and substance use services. It also increases reporting on mental health parity, to continue moving insurance providers towards equitable coverage of mental health and substance use disorders.

The legislation also aims to elevate the position of Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) within future Administrations by creating a new position: Assistant Secretary for Mental Health and Substance Use. The bill includes a stipulation that this role be filled by a mental health professional.

For more facts about mental illness in the US and other aspects of this legislation, check out the National Association on Mental Illness’s (NAMI) #mentalhealthreform handout.

Learn more about the Columbia team’s efforts to advocate on behalf of the mental health care needs of our patients in these related posts. And if you seek to express support for the Mental Health Reform Act of 2016, you can do so by contacting the senators in your state.

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