Action Alert from NCIL: Call Your Representative to Tell Them to Oppose H.R. 2646

Action alert from the National Council on Independent Living (NCIL) re: H.R. 2646 (“Murphy Bill”):

The bill is still bad for people with disabilities.

Representative Murphy, the bill’s author, called H.R. 2646 the “Helping Families in Mental Health Crisis Act of 2015.” Others know it as the “Murphy bill.” Last week the House Energy and Commerce (E&C) Committee amended it and voted it out of committee unanimously. View the markup and the vote.

As we’ve discussed in previous alerts, the passage of this bill would have dire consequences for people with psychiatric disabilities. Misled by dangerous assumptions and false media portrayals of those with psychiatric disabilities, supporters of this bill believe they are advocating for improved access to services and protection from violence.

In reality, this bill would take away basic civil and human rights of people with disabilities. People with psychiatric diagnoses are much more likely to be victims than perpetrators of violence. They are no more likely to be dangerous than their peers without psychiatric diagnoses. Regardless of these facts, proponents of this bill seem to believe that those with psychiatric diagnosis truly are different and less capable than their peers and should be treated as such.

Perhaps most importantly, this bill limits health privacy under the HIPAA rules. Section 401 of the Manager’s Amendment would establish a “Sense of Congress.” This section would write a controversial definition into law. There is substantial research showing that people diagnosed with mental illness are able to make reasonable decisions about their care as do people with other chronic health conditions. The bill ignores this evidence, limiting the rights of people with psychiatric disabilities to privacy and to control their own care.

Section 404 requires the Secretary of Health and Human Services to promulgate new HIPAA privacy regulations. This creates the risk that more discrimination will be written into law consistently with the “Sense of Congress.” 

Together, these provisions justify discrimination and ignore one of the ugly truths of mental health treatment. Namely, most people with psychiatric disability have experienced trauma, often childhood trauma and often at the hands of family members. Granting family members rights to information about health care will cause harm to many people with psychiatric disabilities. We must oppose this.

In addition to the HIPPA privacy provisions, this bill contains other dangerous provisions. It would:

  • Promote greater reliance on hospitals and other institutions over community supports and
  • Bribe states to take away the right to decide their own health care for people with psychiatric disability through an “assisted outpatient treatment” grant program.

The term “assisted outpatient treatment” (AOT) is like calling robbery “assisted wealth redistribution” and is more appropriately called involuntary outpatient treatment (“IOT”). IOT has been studied extensively. It has not been shown to be effective without increased access to services.

H.R. 2646 also creates new bureaucracy within the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA). A new Assistant Secretary must be a doctor. Other changes threaten effective programs such as peer support and limit the role for consumers in mental health and substance use policy and programs.

Instead of encouraging mental health treatment, the discrimination this bill requires would encourage people to avoid treatment. The only sure way to avoid losing rights is to stay out of the system.

Though some of the most harmful provisions in previous versions of this bill have been softened, it is still dangerous and discriminatory. This much we know is true: Passing this bill would undo many years of disability advocacy successes that we as a community have fought so hard to achieve by dehumanizing people with psychiatric diagnoses. Please call your Representative! Ask them to oppose H.R. 2646; it is still bad for people with disabilities.

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