US House passes amended mental health bill

Jenkins among lawmakers who opposed provisions that worried disability advocates

by Andy Marso, KHI News Service

The US House of Representatives passed a sweeping mental health reform bill Wednesday after portions that worried Kansas disability rights advocates had been removed.

House Resolution 2646 passed 422-2 without substantial changes to the authority of Protection and Advocacy for Individuals with Mental Illness, or PAIMI, program.

The bill as originally introduced by US Rep. Tim Murphy, a Republican from Pennsylvania who is a psychologist, included language that sought to curtail activities of the disability rights centers that administer the PAIMI program.

Those provisions were dropped when the bill was extensively amended in committee.

"Those are now out of the bill," said Rocky Nichols, executive director of the Kansas Disability Rights Center.

US Rep. Lynn Jenkins, a Republican who represents most of eastern Kansas except for the Kansas City area, was among those who opposed the PAIMI provisions.

In a news briefing before Wednesday's vote, she said the amended bill provided a more effective path for treating mental illness, which she called "a national problem."

"There are few families in America that have escaped the challenge of depression or addiction or other forms of mental illness," Jenkins said, adding that she had visited Valeo Behavioral Health Care in Topeka just a week earlier. "This legislation will drive innovation and fight the ongoing crisis regarding the shortage of mental health beds in rural populations and provide the much-needed resources to those who don't have access to the care they need."

Among other items, the bill as passed creates an Assistant Secretary for Mental Health and Substance Use Disorders within the presidential Cabinet, provides liability protections for mental health care volunteers and requires Medicare's Part D prescription drug program to cover antidepressants and antipsychotics.

House Speaker Paul Ryan connected the mental health legislation to other efforts to prevent mass shootings and praised Murphy for his persistence in pursuing it.

"He has spent years working on mental health reform," Ryan said.

The bill has not been heard in the US Senate, which has its own mental health legislation, Senate Bill 2680.

That bill cleared committee in April but has not been taken up by the full Senate.

The House also passed a bill Wednesday authored by Jenkins that would repeal a portion of the federal Affordable Care Act related to health savings accounts and flexible spending accounts.

House Resolution 1270 would allow consumers to use the tax-deferred accounts to purchase over-the-counter medications -- a practice restricted by the ACA, which is commonly known as "Obamacare."

"This regulation makes no sense, requiring individuals to see their doctor simply to get a prescription for common cold medication," Jenkins said of the ACA restriction.

The bill garnered the support of 10 Democrats as it passed 233-164. It has not had a Senate hearing.

Both houses of Congress plan to adjourn this month for a long summer break.

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