We Did It! Mental Health Reform Is Headed to the President's Desk

12/7/2016

Today NAMI celebrates a milestone in mental health history.

After more than three years of advocating on behalf of mental health reform at the local, state and federal level, our hard-fought battle is over. Mental health reform is finally a reality.

The Senate passed H.R. 34, the 21st Century Cures Act, with a 94-5 vote on Dec. 7. This landmark victory came after the House passed the same bill 392-26 on Nov. 30.

“This is a new era of healthcare, and the next generation of hope for Americans that really transcends boundaries,” said Rep. Tim Murphy (R-PA), author of H.R. 2646. "To all the families who brought their stories out of the shadows, today is a day of joy.”

The mental health benefits of H.R. 34 span far and wide. The bill incorporates measures and funding to help Americans with mental illness get the care they need.

H.R. 34 includes provisions from the Helping Families in Mental Health Crisis Act of 2016 (H.R. 2646) and from S. 2680, the Mental Health Reform Act of 2016. It also contains language from S. 2002, the Mental Health and Safe Communities Act of 2015 and from S. 993, the Comprehensive Justice and Mental Health Act, promoting de-escalation training and diverting people with mental illness to treatment instead of incarceration.

“I’d seen up close the heartbreak and frustration that families suffered trying to find care for a loved one – care that seemed impossible to find and even harder to pay for. That’s why I worked with Republicans and Democrats on the Mental Health Reform Act,” said Sen. Chris Murphy (D-CT), co-author of the bipartisan Mental Health Reform Act of 2016. 

“Without appropriate treatment options, prisons, jails and emergency rooms become the de facto mental health care facility,” said Murphy’s co-author Sen. Bill Cassidy (R-LA). “The 21st Century Cures Act provides incentives to build an adequate and skilled mental health workforce to expand access to mental health care providing quick and effective diagnosis and treatment.”

The Cures bill mirrors several of NAMI’s top priorities, including:

  • Raising the stature of mental health and substance use disorder services at the federal level by creating an Assistant Secretary for Mental Health and Substance Use.
  • Authorizing grants for CIT programs and de-escalation training for law enforcement and other first responders.
  • Clarifying that the federal Medicaid statute permits same-day billing for the provision of mental health and primary care services.
  • Requiring new federal guidance on compliance with mental health and substance use disorder parity requirements.

NAMI compiled an analysis of the mental health provisions in H.R. 34

This legislation will help promote a patient-centered mental health care system in America. Now we are one step closer to NAMI’s vision of an America where fewer people with mental illness end up on the streets, out of school or in jail.

This victory is because of the power of our members' voices, joined with thousands of others, that form the mental health movement. The battle is won, but the fight is not over. As President Obama signs the 21st Century Cures Act into law, we must ask ourselves, “How do we ensure these mental health services and supports are implemented in 2017?”

As we celebrate, we look to the future. As Rep. Murphy said, we’re entering a new era of healthcare in America. NAMI is dedicated to making it the era of quality mental health.