On Wednesday, June 15, the House Energy and Commerce Committee unanimously voted to approve a reviewed version of the ‘Murphy Bill’ (also known as the ‘Helping Families in Mental Health Crisis Act’ or HR 2646). This does not bode well, as it brings the Murphy Bill dangerously close to becoming law. Fortunately, some of the most objectionable parts of the bill have been amended. For example:
- HIPAA: The Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) is the federal privacy protection that prevents personal health information from being shared without permission. Previously, the Murphy Bill had proposed that the law be loosened so that doctors could use their own discretion to share personal health information with families and others connected to an individual’s care, when the individual is someone who has a psychiatric diagnosis. The new version now only calls for training on what information can be shared under the law as it exists. (This is still potentially worrisome if the law is subject to re-interpretation, as has happened with other legislation in the past, but is certainly an improvement over the idea that the law might actually be changed to expressly allow for discriminatory privacy practices.)
- Forced Outpatient Commitment: The earliest version of the Murphy Bill suggested that Federal dollars be withheld from any state that did not implement a Forced Outpatient Commitment law (also known as ‘Assisted Outpatient Treatment’ or ‘AOT’). More recently, that changed from a penalty to an incentive (2% increase in block grant funding) to those states that enacted such legislation. The current version does neither of these, but does still continue existing Forced Outpatient Commitment laws until 2020.
We MUST stop the Murphy Bill!
It’s MUCH harder to undo something than it is to stop it before it happens!
Please keep contacting your State Representatives,
and making sure to ask your friends and family to do the same.
There’s more to this story – click the Read more below.
However, among other concerns, the current version still calls for the complete re-organization of the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA). While SAMHSA is far from perfect, the Murphy Bill would require that oversight be transferred over to a newly hired ‘Assistant Secretary for Mental Health,’ and promises to rip out funding for many of SAMHSA’s more innovative and forward-moving efforts (such as their various peer support initiatives). Overall, this bill does absolutely nothing to create alternatives to a failing mental health system, and would increase barriers toward moving in that direction.
So, what happens next? The Murphy Bill is now expected to be heard and voted on by the House over the summer. If approved, an identical bill would need to make its way successfully through the Senate before it would land on the desk of the President for final approval. That means this process could drag on some months longer, but this process is unpredictable and we should remember that it could gain more ground at any moment!