On Thursday April 3rd, 2014, Chairman Fred Upton (MI-06) and Ranking Member Henry Waxman (CA-33) convened a hearing of the House Energy and Commerce Committee to discuss H.R. 3717, the Helping Families in Mental Health Crisis Act. If passed, this bill, among other things, would: reform the Community Mental Health Services Block Grant Program, make adjustments to HIPAA and FERPA, create an Assistant Secretary for Mental Health, make changes to Justice Department regulations that impact those with a mental illness, increase funding for certain Medicaid providers and the National Institutes of Health, and reform existing mental health programs at SAMHSA.
Congressman Tim Murphy (PA-18) is the author of the Helping Families in Mental Health Crisis Act and a strong proponent for changing the mental health care system. He said, “For far too long, those who need help have been getting it the least, and where there is no help, there is no hope. We can, must, and will take mental illness out of the shadows of ignorance to spare, neglect and denial, and into that bright light of hope; and it starts with the Helping Families in Mental Health Crisis Act.”
In his opening statement, Fred Upton (MI-06) recognized those families that have been suffering from a mental illness by saying, “Congress is aware of your plight and we can do better.”
Congressman Pallone (NJ-06) is committed to spreading the message that it’s okay to talk about mental health. He said, “I remain committed to working with my other colleagues on the committee as we make mental health a priority.”
Congressman Waxman (CA-33) pointed to parts of the bill that he supports, such as reauthorization of the Garrett Lee Smith Suicide Prevention Program and the National Child Traumatic Stress Initiative.
He also said, “I support the provisions recognizing the important work of the National Institute of Mental Health on brain research that will help us better understand the causes of mental illness.”
Congressman Griffith (VA-09) reiterated the concerns of many of the witnesses by saying that HIPPA needs to be addressed and defined in this bill.
Both Congresswoman Ellmers (NC-02) and Congressman Bilirakis (FL-12) brought to attention the fact that as of 2014, more soldiers had died by suicide than on the battlefield since the war in Afghanistan. In addition to the general public, this gives this issue an added significance. Congressman Bilirakis said, “It’s an invisible wound that millions grapple with each day. Mental health issues are just as serious as visible physical wounds in my opinion.”
Finally, Congressman Tonko (NY-20) expressed his affinity for the mental health cause. He said, “I have the utmost respect for the mental health community and for those who advocate. Their resilience and their determination are stellar and I recognize that.”