House Panel Circulating Updated Draft Mental Health Bill

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By Nathaniel Weixel

June 6 — An updated discussion draft of a House Energy and Commerce Committee mental health bill (H.R. 2646) includes provisions much more in line with what committee Democrats are pushing for.

The newest update to the long-stalled bill, obtained by Bloomberg BNA, could be offered as a manager's amendment at a markup as soon as the week of June 13. The compromise version is aimed at getting the support of committee Democrats, many of whom had objected to various provisions of the original bill.

The original bill, sponsored by Reps. Tim Murphy (R-Pa.) and Eddie Bernice Johnson (D-Texas), advanced through the health subcommittee in late 2015 on a narrow party-line vote, but only after a contentious markup that ran more than 10 hours (215 HCDR 215, 11/6/15).

Following the markup, frustrated committee Democrats released their own version of the legislation (22 HCDR, 2/3/16).

The new draft isn't final, but it appears to have momentum going into the full committee markup. Last month, Rep. Gene Green (D-Texas), ranking Democrat on the health subcommittee, told Bloomberg BNA he was pleased with the changes he had seen, and felt confident Democrats would be much more likely to support the updated version.

HIPAA, Other Changes

For example, the draft eliminates some controversial proposed changes to the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act privacy provisions regarding the release of certain medical information. It also drops an expensive provision that would have repealed limitations on Medicaid reimbursement for certain inpatient mental health care, saving lawmakers from finding a way to pay for it.

The draft calls for the Department of Health and Human Services to write final regulations that clarify when a health-care provider or covered entity may disclose the protected health information of a patient with a mental illness. The original legislation would have allowed for the disclosure to caregivers of certain records for some patients with serious mental illness.

The original bill also contained a provision that would have repealed a decades-old policy that limits Medicaid reimbursement for certain inpatient mental health care. Lawmakers in both the House and Senate had hoped to include the provision, but it came with a price tag of $60 billion over 10 years.

The draft manager's amendment removed that provision. Lawmakers and stakeholders have said a provision included in recent Medicaid managed care regulations addresses the issue, so there isn't a need to include the costly repeal in legislation.

To contact the reporter on this story: Nathaniel Weixel in Washington at nweixel@bna.com

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Brian Broderick at bbroderick@bna.com

For More Information

A copy of the draft is at http://src.bna.com/fBN.