On July 6, 2016, the U.S. House of Representatives took a huge step forward to improve the lives of Americans living with mental illness.
The House passed H.R.2646, the "Helping Families in Mental Health Crisis Act," sponsored by Reps. Tim Murphy (R-Pa.) and Eddie Bernice Johnson (D-TX) with votes tallying an overwhelming 422 to 2.
Although originally intended to inspire a massive overhaul of the mental health care system, the bill was revised and trimmed down to include new prevention and treatment programs, reauthorize existing ones, restructure leadership at the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, and require insurers to provide more robust coverage for eating disorders.
"As always, there is more work to be done in the world of mental health parity and advocacy," said Lisa Kantor of Kantor & Kantor, LLP. "However, the passing of this bill is an incredible leap forward towards improving the lives of so many who suffer with mental illness. To me, my fellow advocates, and my clients, this means more power and leverage in holding insurance companies accountable, and the bottom line here is more attainable and less complicated access to life saving mental health treatment - and that is something to be celebrated."
Sens. Bill Cassidy, R-La., and Chris Murphy, D-Conn. (who are carrying the Senate version) described the bill as imperfect, but recognize that its passing with such overwhelming numbers is proof that there is broad, bipartisan support for fixing our broken mental health system.
The bill, originally drafted in the aftermath of the 2012 Sandy Hook school massacre, has become somewhat entangled in more controversial policy fights over gun violence and gun control. Many are hesitant in making a connection between mental health and violence, and believe that better treatment options can reduce mass shootings. We very much hope this to be true, and will continue to advocate on behalf of our clients for improved access to mental health treatment.
A special thanks to the Eating Disorders Coalition and all those involved with advocating, sponsoring, and tireless lobbying for the passing of this bill. Together we celebrate this advancement in mental health care reform.
And in the meantime, we will continue to fight the good fight.