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House Tries to Overcome Roadblocks on Mental Health Reform

New version of bill strips contentious provisions on patient privacy, Medicaid payments

Rep. Tim Murphy, R-Pa., left, talks to colleagues at a House and Energy and Commerce Committee markup last year. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call file photo)

House lawmakers are launching a renewed attempt to get bipartisan support behind a long-stalled mental health reform bill, with a draft that strips several contentious provisions and borrows heavily from a version that has already been marked up in the Senate.  

Democrats strongly opposed the initial legislation, sponsored by Rep. Tim Murphy , R-Pa., arguing that it weakened patient privacy protections and would have made changes to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration that they felt would have undermined the agency.  

The new draft, obtained by CQ/Roll Call Monday, would attempt to address many of those concerns.  

It would drop a provision loosening patient privacy restrictions to make it easier for relatives of people with behavioral health conditions to receive confidential patient information if it was considered necessary to protect the individual or the public.  

It would also scale back a provision to end a limit on Medicaid coverage for inpatient mental health care at institutions. Lawmakers in both chambers had hoped to add such a provision to the mental health bills, but with an estimated price tag of $60 billion over 10 years, the challenge has been paying for it.  

One controversial provision from Murphy’s original bill would still be included: a prohibition on lobbying by mental health systems accepting federal funding.  

Murphy, a clinical psychologist, first proposed his comprehensive mental health bill in 2013, on the first anniversary of the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting in Newtown, Conn. Earlier drafts have been lauded by House Republicans as a potential response to mass shootings.  

But despite repeated and bipartisan calls for an overhaul, the legislation has faced roadblocks: navigating the complex mental health system, educating lawmakers about needed improvements and lacking specific, vocal support from leadership.    

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