Overhaul of mental health care system faces hurdles

Sinclair Broadcast Group - The overhaul of the mental healthcare system faces hurdles.

Mounting concerns over privacy now threaten to derail an overhaul of the nation's ailing mental health care system.

Opponents believe changes to the Federal Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act, better known as HIPPA, could make it even more difficult than it already is for people to get the psychiatric care they need.

There's now pushback coming from 19 of 23 Democratic lawmakers on the House Energy and Commerce Committee.

That's where the bill is being debated.

"Everyone knows that we need to do better when it comes to mental health services" said Rep. Jan Schakowsky (D-Illinois).

The bill, by Representative Tim Murphy (R-Pennsylvania), was written in the months following the massacre at the Sandy Hook Elementary School in Connecticut. In 2012, it had bipartisan support.

It's waning now because of proposed changes to HIPPA privacy laws, that would give family members and caretakers of a mentally ill person more medical information.

"We want to make sure people feel they can go in privacy to get the help they need and to ask for whatever they need to resolve their mental illness," said Rep. Schakowsky.

Democrats say if HIPPA is changed, it will deter the mentally ill from seeking help, which they believe will defeat the very purpose of reforming mental health care.

About 10 million people in the U.S. have a serious mental illness like schizophrenia or bipolar disorder, according to the National Institute of Mental Health.

According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness, almost half don't get psychiatric treatment for many reasons, including homelessness, incarceration, and too few hospital beds.

"We rarely if ever focus our attention on the broken mental health system until these mass tragedies occur. So, maybe it is the silver lining," said Ron Honberg, with NAMI.

Honberg said he hates to conflate mental healthcare with mass shootings, because he said not all perpetrators have a mental illness. But he believes Rep. Murphy's bill has the potential to eliminate some mass shootings in the future.

"You can't help but ask yourself had there been more aggressive intervention available under these circumstances could the tragedies have been prevented in the first place."

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