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Bill to Overhaul Mental Health Care Spurs Debate

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A bill designed to overhaul the mental health care system in the United States has spurred debate among advocates for the mentally ill, The New York Times reports. Some groups oppose the measure because it includes provisions for expanded use of involuntary outpatient treatment.

Congress will hear testimony about The Helping Families in Mental Health Crisis Act on Thursday. The act is considered to be the most ambitious overhaul plan in decades, the newspaper notes. Its prospects are not clear.

Several mental health organizations are supporting the bill, which has more than a dozen Democratic co-sponsors in the House. Last week both the House and Senate voted to expand funding for outpatient treatment programs, one of the bill’s central provisions. The House Energy and Commerce Health Subcommittee will hear testimony on the entire bill today.

Parts of the bill have wide support, including provisions to streamline payment for services under Medicaid, and to provide funds for clinics that meet standards for scientifically supported, rigorous care. The bill would fund suicide prevention programs and remote video therapy for rural areas without adequate mental health services. Police officers and emergency medical works would receive increased training in how to identify and treat people with mental disorders.

The bill would provide grants to states for “assisted outpatient treatment programs” for court-ordered treatment for certain people with mental illness and a history of legal or other problems. In most cases, the programs try to ensure these people take their medication—in some cases, against their will.

Gina Nikkel, President and Chief Executive of the Foundation for Excellence in Mental Health Care, told the newspaper, “This becomes a civil rights issue quickly, and it can drive people away from seeking services when they fear treatment will be forced on them or they’ll be locked up.”

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