US House Passes Major Mental Health Care Bill

Megan Brooks

December 01, 2016

The 21st Century Cures Act, which includes significant mental health components, overwhelmingly passed in the House of Representatives on November 30 by a vote of 392 to 26.

"This legislation will greatly benefit our patients with mental illness and substance use disorders," Maria A. Oquendo, MD, PhD, president of the American Psychiatric Association (APA), said in a statement.

"The bill strengthens existing parity laws so that mental illness is treated just like any other illness, and it better coordinates the efforts of federal agencies responsible for treating mental illness.

"This marks the passage of the first mental health reform bill in more than 50 years and is long overdue," Dr Oquendo added.

The $6 billion bipartisan health legislation improves the way the federal government finances and manages evidence-based mental health services, promotes workforce development and integrated care, and toughens the enforcement of mental health parity, the APA noted.

The legislation also provides money for the creation of suicide-prevention programs and for improving mental health services for children. Other key provisions in the legislation include the following:

  • The appointment of a chief medical officer at the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration who must hold a medical degree and have experience treating patients with mental illness or substance use disorders;

  • The allocation of $1 billion in state grants to address the opioid epidemic;

  • The creation of grants for promoting integrated care models for primary care and behavioral healthcare services;

  • The creation of grants for training programs, such as the APA Foundation's Typical or Troubled? program, which trains school officials to identify students who may need mental health care;

  • A request for "clarification" of the permitted uses and disclosures of health information covered by the Health Information Portability and Accountability Act.

The Senate is expected to vote next week on the legislation.

"With the House passage, we urge the Senate to pass this important legislation before adjourning for the year," said APA CEO and Medical Director Saul Levin, MD, MPA, in the statement. "Our mental health system needs to be retooled to meet the growing demands of our patients."

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