The Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) Committee turned its attention to mental health and addictions legislation this week, voting on and approving two bills and scheduling a hearing for a third later this month. These efforts are an encouraging sign of the progress being made on Capitol Hill and bring hope to advocates on what can be accomplished during the 114th Congress.
Mental Health Awareness and Improvement Act of 2015 (S. 1893)
The bill – introduced by Senate HELP Committee Chairman Senator Lamar Alexander (R-TN) and Ranking Member Patty Murray (D-WA) – includes provisions reauthorizing important programs in suicide prevention, mental illness awareness and de-escalation trainings such as Mental Health First Aid, and opioid use disorder treatment services.
The Mental Health Awareness and Improvement Act was first introduced in 2013, when, despite receiving near-unanimous support in the Senate, it failed to pass after being attached to a gun violence bill. This year’s version was introduced by a bipartisan group of 20 Senators.
This bill was approved by the Committee and sent to the full Senate chamber for debate. Read more on our coverage of this bill here.
Mental Health Reform Act of 2015 (S. 1945)
The Committee announced this week that it plans to hold a mark-up hearing on this bill on Thursday, October 29. The bill’s authors Senators Chris Murphy (D-CT) and Bill Cassidy (R-LA), are members of the Senate HELP Committee. Their legislation reauthorizes a number of programs within the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), establishes workforce training and education programs for behavioral health providers, and affirms a commitment to providing evidence-based treatment services throughout federally funded mental health programs.
Read more on our coverage of this comprehensive mental health reform bill here.
Protecting Our Infants Act of 2015 (S. 799)
The bill requires the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) to review its activities related to prenatal opioid use and neonatal abstinence syndrome and to develop a strategy addressing gaps in research and programs. The bill, authored by Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY), also requires the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) to help states improve neonatal abstinence syndrome surveillance and make surveillance data publicly available.
This bill was approved by the Committee and sent to the full Senate chamber for debate.