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COLUMN: Bipartisan Progress on Mental Health and Medical Research

December 7, 2016
Weekly Column and Op-Ed

Even as this year’s legislative session comes to a close, the last bills passed by Congress are certainly not the least important. As the saying goes, “last but not least.” Bipartisan legislation passed just last week tackles real problems, such as the mental health crisis and the need for improving medical research. I joined my colleagues in the House to approve the 21st Century Cures Act, which includes the most significant bipartisan mental health reform in a decade, on a vote of 392-26. The legislation also supports research for much-needed biomedical innovation to develop and deliver cutting-edge medicine faster so that it reaches patients.

Our mental health care system desperately needs an overhaul to better serve families and individuals. As many as 11.5 million Americans struggle with mental illness, including serious conditions such as schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, and major depression. According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI), about “1 in 5 youth aged 13–18 experiences a severe mental disorder at some point during their life.” For children aged 8–15, according to NAMI, the estimate is 13%. Yet a recent federal report revealed that there is a shortage of 100,000 psychiatric beds nationwide, and for every 2,000 children with a mental health disorder, there is only one available child psychiatrist.

After the unspeakable tragedy at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newton, Connecticut, when an individual stole the lives of more than 26 innocents, it became clear that our country must do more to address the mental health crisis. The mental health system requires broad improvement. My colleague, Rep. Tim Murphy (R-PA), authored legislation, Helping Families in Mental Health Crisis, which was included in 21st Century Cures to address current shortcomings of our mental health system. His legislation will increase the number of crisis mental hospital beds, promote evidence-based care, and bring accountability to spending on mental health. It provides grants to increase access to pediatric mental health care. The federal government spends $130 billion annually on mental health, and the newly-created National Mental Health Policy Laboratory will be charged with setting objectives and measuring scientific outcomes to ensure that resources are being used wisely and effectively. These are only a few of the legislation’s improvements to help fix our mental health system.

While mental health reforms were a key part of 21st Century Cures, the legislation also accelerated the development of life-saving treatments and cures. The bill expedites the development and review of drugs for rare diseases and modernizes the Food and Drug Administration to streamline approvals. It also improves the review for medical devices and reduces unnecessary regulation. Finally, it funds state grants to fight the opioid abuse crisis affecting our communities.

From improving mental health services to saving lives through encouraging innovative cures, the passage of 21st Century Cures place patients first and creates hope in the fight against disease.