Fixing our mental health system


Robert Pittenger - Contributing Column



This week, 422 Members of Congress joined together to pass the most significant reform of America’s mental health system in decades.

In the aftermath of the tragedy at Sandy Hook, we learned the perpetrator had a long history of untreated mental illness. This prompted an investigation into America’s mental health system by Congressman Tim Murphy and the House Energy and Commerce Committee, searching for ways to ensure we deliver treatment before tragedy.

Following a tragedy, political leaders often promise “golden ticket” solutions at photo ops. Too often, these “fixes” would create more problems than they solve.

In contrast, The Helping Families in Mental Health Crisis Act (H.R. 2646), which I co-sponsored, is the result of Congressman Murphy’s yearlong investigation, public forums, hearings with expert witnesses, budget reviews, hours of bipartisan negotiations, listening sessions with relevant parties and productive compromise.

The untangling of federal mental health bureaucracy isn’t glamorous work, but it’s how you develop real solutions.

Specifically, our legislation establishes a new Assistant Secretary for Mental Health and Substance Abuse to better coordinate mental health programs across the federal government. Why? The Government Accountability Office has found the 112 federal programs intended to address mental illness are not connecting for effective service and “interagency coordination for programs supporting individuals with serious mental illness is lacking.” For our mental health programs to be the most effective, they need to work together and share information.

We also ensure the effectiveness of these programs by requiring the President to prioritize filling this position with an experienced doctor who has clinical and research experience in mental health and substance abuse, rather than another government bureaucrat.

To spend your tax dollars more effectively, our legislation creates a National Mental Health and Substance Abuse lab to award grants based on evidence-based practices. We also provide for increased Medicaid and private insurance coverage of mental health services, including preventative care services for children.

Local sheriffs have told me medical privacy laws sometime make it difficult to obtain the necessary information to help or protect someone with mental illness. Privacy concerns must be balanced with safety concerns, which is why this legislation directs the Secretary of Health and Human Services to clarify when communication can take place in accordance with HIPPA privacy rules between providers, patients, and caregivers for those with serious mental illness.

As your Congressman, I am committed to fiscal responsibility. All new spending in this legislation is fully offset by cutting wasteful spending elsewhere in the budget, with a net deficit reduction of $5 million.

No bill is perfect or will solve all our problems, but the Helping Families in Mental Health Crisis Act represents substantive bipartisan action on an important issue and will make a positive difference in our community.

THIS WEEK IN WASHINGTON

Tucked away in President Obama’s nuclear deal with Iran was a special-interest carve out to sell commercial aircraft to Iran. As the world’s number one state sponsor of terror, Iran would very likely use this aircraft to support hostile actors in the Middle East. This week, I introduced legislation to effectively block the sale of commercial aircraft to Iran.

The House of Representatives also passed legislation to improve access to health care through health savings accounts and provide targeted relief from Obamacare. Specifically, we repealed President Obama’s prohibition on using tax-free funds from flexible spending accounts to purchase over-the-counter medication without a prescription. We also increased the maximum contribution limit to a health savings account and provided consumers a reasonable grace period between gaining coverage through a health savings account eligible plan and actually establishing the HSA.

U.S. Rep. Robert Pittenger, R-Charlotte, represents North Carolina’s 9th Congressional District, which will include Richmond County next year under state redistricting maps.

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Robert Pittenger

Contributing Column

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