On Thursday, June 4, 2015 the Helping Families in Mental Health Crisis Act was re-introduced by Representative Tim Murphy of Pennsylvania. It is also known as H.R. 2646 or, perhaps most commonly, as the ‘Murphy Bill.’ Although it is claimed that the second version of this Bill contains several compromises, it seems just as bad as the first.
In fact, it may actually be worse, and here’s why: The second version of this bill uses toned down language and seems like it’s let go of some of it’s original (and more controversial) priorities. However, most of the ‘toning down’ seems superficial in nature, and so what this actually means is that the Bill is all the more likely to get passed while still essentially allowing for the same setbacks, invasiveness and rights violations to those receiving (or targeted as needing) services in the mental health system.
Ultimately, as with the first time this bill was introduced (2013), it suggests many changes to existing laws and programs that pose a serious risk to our work and movement. Some of the most notable points include:
- Increased Forced ‘Treatment’: The Murphy Bill seeks to loosen restrictions on when force can be used and ties certain types of federal funding to state implementation of Involuntary Outpatient Commitment (IOC) laws (also known as Assisted Outpatient Treatment or ‘AOT’). Although the Bill no longer requires a block on federal funds to a state that does not employ IOC, it still incentivizes it by giving more to states that do. IOC is a particular form of forced ‘treatment’ that allows for forced medication and a number of other requirements and limitations regarding how someone lives their life, sometimes for reasons as simple as the system feeling that that person has been hospitalized too frequently. (For more on IOC, see this article: www.westernmassrlc.org/rlc-articles/214-outpatient-commitment-laws-a-massachusetts)
- It Guts the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA): SAMHSA has and continues to provide funding that many feel is important and highly impactful both for people who struggle with addictions and substance abuse and those who struggle with emotional or mental distress, trauma and psychiatric diagnosis. For example, they provided the initial funding for Second Story Peer Respite in California. They are also responsible for funding peer-to-peer technical assistance centers like the National Empowerment Center in Massachusetts and Peerlink in Oregon, as well as for the funding that helped the Western Mass Recovery Learning Community develop the Handbook on Peer Roles (available here: www.psresources.info). Whatever complaints their may be about SAMHSA, gutting them and moving funds under the control of the Assistant Secretary for Mental Health and Substance Abuse Treatment would inevitably lead to the loss of many supports, particularly in the peer-to-peer realm.
- It Severely Limits How Advocates Can Support People Whose Rights are Being Violated: In the first version of the bill, Murphy sought to gut the budget of the ‘Protection and Advocacy for Individuals with Mental Illness’ (PAIMI) programs (i.e., operating under the Disability Law Centers). This version shifts its tactic from budget reduction to placing limits directly on the authority of such advocates to act on complaints. In the end, the result is the same: Less support and advocacy to people whose rights are being violated.
- It Loosens Restrictions on HIPAA: The Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) is what requires medical and mental health professionals to go to great lengths to keep your information private. In this second version of the Bill, Murphy has pretended that he is compromising by no longer okaying the release of psychotherapy notes. However, his new Bill still allows for the release of diagnosis, treatment plans, medication plans, and so on to family and caregivers even when against the person’s will.
- Murphy Pretends to Support Peer-to-Peer Support as a Method to Control and Limit It: In the first version of the Murphy Bill, funding for peer roles was not supported. In what is being marked by some as a ‘concession’ by Rep. Murphy, the new bill encourages funding for peer support. However, the funding comes with a strict definition of what people in peer roles are able to do along with a requirement that they be supervised by mental health clinicians. Should this come to pass, it would devastate the concept of independent peer-run efforts and severely limit some of the most impactful peer supports currently available.
There’s a great deal more to this Bill and if you’re interested in reading it for yourself, you can do so here: http://docs.house.gov/meetings/IF/IF14/20150616/103615/BILLS-1142646ih.pdf
A hearing on the Bill was also held on Tuesday, June 16 and should be available for viewing on the Energy & Commerce Committee’s website here: http://energycommerce.house.gov/hearing/examining-hr-2646-helping-families-mental-health-crisis-act#video
You may also be interested in reading Harvey Rosenthal’s written testimony for the June 16 hearing below.
Harvey is the Executive Director for the New York Psychiatric Rehabilitation Association Services (NYAPRS) as is a longtime outspoken advocate against Involuntary Outpatient Commitment.
Also of note, Doris Matsui has proposed an alternate Bill, ‘The Including Families in Mental Health Recovery Act.’ While many feel this Bill does not go nearly far enough, others are choosing to support it as a much preferred alternative over the Murphy Bill. You can view this alternate Bill here:
BUT MOST IMPORTANTLY:
Call your state Representatives and Senators and tell them you oppose the Murphy Bill (HR 2646) and are asking them to do the same!!!!!
You can find out who your State Representative is here: http://www.house.gov/representatives/find/
You can find out who your State Senator is here: http://www.senate.gov/
The life of a Bill is unpredictable and so it’s not clear how long the Murphy Bill might take to pass or be dismissed, but we hope that you’ll join us in staying on top of what’s happening and what we can do to stop the Murphy Bill. In an effort to support that, we will be launching a ‘Stop the Murphy Bill’ webpage on our website by mid-July to help everyone stay up-to-date. Stay tuned for more!