Some call it the biggest mental health act Congress has voted in the last 20 years. It follows the shooting in Newtown, Conn. in 2012. One of the authors is New Jersey Congressman Frank Pallone, who sat down and talked to NJTV News Anchor Mary Alice Williams.
Williams: Tell me, how would your bill help people dealing with acute mental illness?
Pallone: Well it provides a number of programs, or grant funding if you will, to states that would increase almost everything. You know, prevention, basically treatment. Maybe one of the most important things is that right now if children are in a psychiatric institution, Medicaid doesn’t cover a lot of their services, and this will guarantee that those are covered by Medicaid for kids that don’t have health insurance if they’re eligible for Medicaid. There’s a suicide prevention program, a number of things that will make a difference in terms of the problems that we face. I mean it’s sort of a crisis now with mental health because a lot of people that have problems never get treatment.
Williams: And this would also provide for acute care emergency treatment on a short-term basis in a crisis, right?
Pallone: Right, and I probably should mention that parody provisions, Mary Alice, in other words under the Affordable Care Act or Obamacare mental health services have to be treated the same way as physical health services if you will. But there have been some problems with enforcing that and so this does more to make sure that that’s property enforced and that insurance does cover mental health services, which is also a problem.
Williams: One thing that is addressed would allow parents of adult children even to have access to the kid’s health records. How does that change the game?
Pallone: Well the privacy issue is very complex. I’d have to spend a lot of time on that, but there have been problems where parents wanted to be able to help their kids and haven’t been able to access their records. It’s not like they can just access them automatically, but we do make it easier to do that but we also try to respect their privacy. So one of the provisions that the bill provides is training programs, if you will, so that mental health caregivers and providers understand the privacy laws better. That’s a difficult problem because you have to maintain privacy as well.
Williams: Sure. The bill was originally introduced after the massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newton, Conn. four years ago, but Mental Health America‘s CEO said it only got legs when it was re-framed as a public health, not a public safety, issue. Why is public safety a non-starter?
Pallone: Well, I think the problem was that there were a lot of media accounts that were suggesting that this bill was trying to deal with the mass violence or the gun violence. We’re trying to make the point that the people that are perpetrators of gun violence are, we shouldn’t associate them necessarily with mental illness. Mental illness, the people that are the perpetrators, are not necessarily mentally ill, so we don’t want to kind of associate the mass shootings, if you will, with this bill. This bill is not designed to deal with mass shootings. It’s designed to deal with the larger problem of lack of mental health services and treatment.
Williams: So how does this relate to the way Congress addresses gun control?
Pallone: I don’t really want to link the two, Mary Alice, in all honesty. The one thing I will mention though is that you know there’s a provision that’s been in effect under federal law for some years now that says that when you’re dealing with gun violence that the Centers for Disease Control cannot do any kind of research or data collection about how the gun violence impacts mental health, or collect any data in regard to gun violence. I think that that should be repealed and should be banned. I mean that should be overturned so they can collect that data and see what extent we need to deal with the mental health in the context of gun violence. But we tried to get that banned, overturned, for that kind of data collection in this bill and we couldn’t do it. This bill doesn’t really address that.