Senate Bill 1218 (PN 1745) would amend the Mental Health and Intellectual Disability Act of 1966 mandating the Department of Human Services to develop standardized mental health crisis intervention and emergency services training for county mental health and intellectual disability administrators and designated representatives. Representatives are individuals whose duties include intake, screening, assessment, review, assistance or referral for voluntary and involuntary crisis and emergency services. The Senate Public Health and Welfare Committee has considered the bill twice and it is now in Appropriations. During the initial consideration by the committee, Chairman Pat Vance (R-31) stated that DHS in conjunction with the county administrators would create the standards.
Senate Bill 1279 (PN 1859) would suspend Medical Assistance benefits rather than terminate them for enrolled individuals who become incarcerated. Senator Vance (R-31) and Kitchen (D-3) introduced the bill on June 2, which was referred to the Public Health and Welfare Committee.
House Bill 2028 (PN 3608) would establish the Psychiatric Oversight Act to address psychiatric supervision requirements in outpatient psychiatric clinics. Representative Pickett (R-110) introduced the legislation in an effort to meet growing demand and to take into account all prescribing professionals. The bill does not reflect the draft outpatient regulations under final review in the Department of Human Services.
Senate Bill 1326 (PN 1948) would provide five additional points in grading Civil Service examinations to individuals who voluntarily disclose and provide documentation of having a disability as defined in the Pennsylvania Human Relations Act. The bill was referred to State Government Committee on June 20.
House Bill 2173 (PN 3566) was introduced by Representative Murt (R-152) in an effort to strengthen enforcement of the Mental Health Parity and Addictions Equity Act of 2008 passed by Congress. The bill is now in the Insurance Committee.
House Bill 2211 (PN 3606), introduced by Representatives Baker (R-68) and Fabrizio (R-2) on June 22, would extend annual assessment in the Human Services Code and place the eHealth Partnership Program under the Department of Human Services. The annual assessments for nursing home, Philadelphia hospitals and Intermediate Care Facilities all expire June 30, 2016. The Pennsylvania eHealth Partnership is a current initiative intended to enable the secure exchange of electronic health information. The bill in in the Health Committee.
CONGRESSIONAL MENTAL HEALTH REFORM MOVES IN HOUSE ~ During the course of the past year, the House Energy and Commerce Committee has heavily debated the Helping Families in Mental Health Crisis Act (HR 2646). The committee dramatically changed the original proposal introduced by Representative Tim Murphy (R-PA). Some notable changes include creating an incentive rather than a mandate Assisted Outpatient Treatment and removal of changes regarding sharing of patient information. The current bill looks similar to the S. 2680, Mental Health Reform Act of 2016, in the Senate.
CONGRESSIONAL BILL TO EXPAND CHILD WELFARE SCOPE TO INCLUDE NEW SERVICES ~ This month the House passed H.R. 5456, Family First Prevention Services Act of 2016. The bill would expand funding for earlier intervention and family services to keep children safely supported at home with their family. Federal child welfare funding under Title IV E and B of the Social Security Act could pay for mental health, substance abuse, parenting programs and prevention services. The Senate has a comparable bill championed by Finance Chairman Hatch (R-UT) and Ron Wyden (D-OR)
- Consumers and families had a great deal of trouble finding mental health providers in their health plan networks.
- Denials for mental health care were far higher than for other types of medical care.
- Health plan coverage of psychiatric medications was inadequate.
- Even when covered, out of pocket costs for medications posed barriers to care.
- Out of pocket costs were more onerous for mental health care than comparable medical specialty care.
- When selecting plans available through the health insurance marketplaces, consumers did not have enough information to make informed decisions.
We also know that here in Pennsylvania, there has been difficulty getting mental health parity enforced. The system is complicated. People find the system of appealing insurance denials and filing complaints cumbersome and often do not get a good response. Some recommendations would be:
- State agencies coordinate and focus on mental health and substance use parity enforcement.
- Develop a system that is navigable for people who are filing complaints, specifying where to go, how to file, and how soon they will get a response. We need state and federal officials to be responsive to complaints and bring about resolutions.
- We need more transparency and access to information for insurance consumers.
- The end goal is that we get people the mental health and substance use care they need, so they can recover.
We have these opportunities here in Pennsylvania and we are hoping that we can achieve parity of mental health and substance use disorders to the full extent of the law. Evidence for the need for both is seen in next year’s mental health budget, which provides funding for opioid treatment. Thank you for listening and for your efforts moving forward.”