From a practicing physician who is now a U.S. senator, Bill Cassidy’s new bill on mental health treatment focuses on an issue that troubled not only him but probably many other physicians — the treatment gap.
The gap occurs because the care for mental and physical ailments usually occurs in different silos, of funding or insurance or just a lack of communication among a patient, physician and family members.
Yet if the treatment gap or gaps occur, the interaction of physical ailments and mental conditions is working all the time on the same patient.
Working with U.S. Sen. Christopher Murphy, D-Conn., Cassidy has proposed a bill seeking more attention to mental illness issues among government agencies.
“It is our hope that these improvements will mean better and more successful care to help prevent unnecessary suffering and tragic consequences,” Cassidy, a Baton Rouge physician, said at a news conference on the proposal.
Part of the proposal is intended to address the treatment policy gap in the U.S. government.
The Mental Health Reform Act would establish the position of assistant secretary for mental health and substance use within the federal Department of Health and Human Services, elevating the profile of the issue.
The assistant secretary would oversee grant programs and promote high-quality approaches to treatment.
The bill also would award grants to states to improve integration of physical and mental health programs. It would provide for grants to encourage early intervention in addressing the needs of patients with mental illness. And it would seek to remove barriers to sharing useful information about treatment with family members and others.
This is a list that is going to provoke debate, and we commend Cassidy and Murphy for putting so many issues on the table. At the same time, the reality is that there are far more significant problems than those purely in the power of the federal government.
The tragic shooting in a movie theater in Lafayette was by a deranged man who apparently legally bought his weapons, but whose track record of a life going off the rails did not result in the kind of intensive intervention that might have prevented the tragedy. A thousand less-violent episodes occur every day in the lives of Americans afflicted by mental illness; quite often physicians and family, even when present in the victim’s life, feel helpless to make the changes that will work.
The Cassidy bill ought to launch a larger discussion, even beyond the immediate proposals.
Cassidy and Murphy have not identified a funding source for the bill. Optimistically, Cassidy said the costs would be low and likely more than offset by reducing the impact of mental illness on society.
While that is true, this and a similar measure introduced in the House in June will require a funding source under the sometimes arcane rules governing legislation in Congress. We’d hate to see hard work and a tough discussion of such troubling issues go by the wayside because of last-minute wrangles over funding regulations.
And even when the funding hurdles are passed for the current bill, there remain the difficulties of financing effective mental health interventions in the lives of millions who need those services.