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Sen. Murphy: Put Mental Health Bill On 'Last Train' Before Trump

U.S. Sen. Chris Murphy, D-Conn., crosses his fingers in hopes a sweeping mental healthcare bill he co-authored will be passed in the coming weeks. Photo Credit: Meredith Guinness
Dozens crowded the conference room at Southwest Community Health Center to hear about the Mental Health Reform Act. Photo Credit: Meredith Guinness
Kathy Yacavone, CEO of Southwest Community Health Center in Bridgeport, chats with state Rep. Steve Stafstrom, D-129. Photo Credit: Meredith Guinness

BRIDGEPORT, Conn. — U.S. Sen. Chris Murphy held a mental health roundtable in Bridgeport on Monday, in hopes of getting the Mental Health Reform Act he co-authored onto “the last train leaving the station” before the Trump Administration moves into the White House.

“We have a chance to pass this in the next few weeks,” Murphy (D-Conn.) told an overflow crowd at the Southwest Community Health Center. “And, oh, by the way, there may be money with it.”

About 75 mental health and addiction specialists crowded into the center’s conference room, eager to hear more about the bill Murphy co-wrote with U.S. Sen Bill Cassidy, a Louisiana Republican whom Murphy freely admits he disagrees with on most other issues.

The cornerstone of the bill supports parity between physical healthcare and mental healthcare. While insurance companies were forced to make a statement of parity to their clients years ago, this legislation would require them to actually give patients approved access to mental health care without forcing them to jump through too many hoops, Murphy said.

It would provide incentives to states that cut through regulatory red tape and grants to support clinicians and peer support efforts, he said. The bill also supports “clarifying” laws and reforming some HIPAA restrictions on sharing information with parents of minors seeking treatment, he said.

Murphy told those gathered that he believes they’re expected to “perform miracles” in a highly dysfunctional and fragmented system.

The bill has a real chance of passing, Murphy said, because he and Cassidy worked for bipartisan support and now have 14 Republicans and 14 Democrats signed on as co-sponsors.

“We built this bill the right way,” he said, adding that it is the biggest piece of legislation he has co-authored. “We’re very close to the finish line.”

Bridgeport Schools Interim Superintendent Fran Rabinowitz said the proposed legislation could spark some savings in education. Many children affected by trauma at a young age end up funneled into special education, though she feels they don’t need that specialized service that is costing the city millions.

“They need intervention at a much earlier age,” she said, adding families could benefit from treatment, too.

Insurance denial rates for mental healthcare run about four to five times higher than denials for physical healthcare, Murphy said. Many patients are asked to do so much more legwork, they simply give up trying, he said.

State Rep. Steve Stafstrom, D-129, said he appreciates that Murphy worked in state government and understands the “silos” that exist and can hinder action. State Sen. Tony Hwang, R-134, said he supports the legislation.

“Great luck on getting that bill passed,” he said. “I think it’s sorely needed.”

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