Monday, June 10, 2013

Congressman Tim Murphy Joins White House Conference on Mental Health Renews request for MH spending and program details

For Immediate Release: June 3, 2013
Contact: Dain Pascocello, 202.225.2301

Washington, D.C. — Congressman Tim Murphy (PA-18), Chairman of the Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations, renewed his call today for the White House Office of Management and Budget (OMB) to ...release information related to the federal government’s funding of programs to treat the seriously mentally ill.

Today, Chairman Murphy is participating in the White House’s National Conference on Mental Health, led by President Barack Obama, to “discuss how we can all work together to reduce stigma and help the millions of Americans struggling with mental health problems recognize the importance of reaching out for assistance.”

In a letter delivered to the President, Chairman Murphy asked that the White House comply with an April 10, 2013 committee request to OMB Acting Director Jeffrey Zients to detail all programs dedicated to the treatment and research of mental illness, the amount each program receives annually, and the amount dedicated to the treatment of serious mental illness. Zients has failed to respond to the Committee request.

“We need to get a handle on how much is spent, where it goes, and if federal tax dollars are being used to effectively diagnose, treat, and research mental illness,” said Chairman Murphy. “An audit of spending on federal mental health programs enables Congress to make informed decisions so we can fix our broken mental health system and hold agencies accountable if funds are not getting down to the level of helping patients and supporting families.”

Murphy has been investigating both the social barriers to mental health reform as well as the effectiveness of existing federal mental health programs in his subcommittee’s ongoing review.

At an May 22 Oversight hearing to examine federal spending on serious mental illness at the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), Murphy and committee investigators revealed questionable spending, including $22,500 to commission a painting, more than $80,000 on a staff-directed musical skit, and hundreds of thousands of dollars on questionable conferences (such as “Unleash the Beast”) during which individuals with serious mental illness were encouraged to stop taking their medications.

“The wasteful spending and failed programs at SAMHSA need to end. Resources are desperately needed for science and evidence based treatment programs,” said Murphy. “Federal programs intended to help patients are actually endangering the lives and the public by discouraging the seriously mentally ill from taking medication or seeking clinical help. It’s as if SAMHSA doesn’t believe serious mental illness exists.”

Text of the letter follows:

June 3, 2013

The President
The White House
1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, Northwest
Washington, DC 20500

Dear Mr. President,

In the wake of the tragic violence at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, CT, the link between mass violence and mental illness has received renewed attention. Even more so, we are once again confronted with the fact that serious mental illness is an area that demands greater attention, so that we may help individuals and families in need.

Towards that end, I welcome and commend your efforts through the National Dialogue on Mental Health to work on reducing stigma, fostering greater understanding, crafting appropriate policies, and directing resources to programs that most effectively help individuals with serious mental illness.

As you know, immediately after the tragedy in Newtown, Connecticut, the Committee on Energy and Commerce began examining violence, serious mental illness and federal mental health programs with an understanding that, in nearly every episode of recent mass violence, there is a perpetrator who has an untreated or undertreated serious mental illness.

Members of this Committee have sat down with the nation’s leading researchers and clinicians on serious mental illness. In addition, Committee staff has met representatives from numerous federal agencies involved in mental health research and treatment, including the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH), the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), the Centers for Medicaid and Medicare Services, and various groups and stakeholders to better understand what federal programs exist and whether they are effective.

On March 5, 2013, the Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations, which I chair, held a bipartisan public forum, “After Newtown: A National Conversation on Violence and Severe Mental Illness,” to focus on mental health treatment and research into serious mental illness and violence. The Oversight Subcommittee also heard from experts who are on the forefront of treating the seriously mental ill and conducting research. Based on the discussion that took place at this forum, the Subcommittee has held two more hearings: “Does HIPAA Help or Hinder Patient Care and Safety?” on April 26, 2013, and “Examining SAMHSA’s Role in Delivering Services to the Severely Mentally Ill,” on May 22, 2013.

Through the work of the Committee, serious questions have been raised on whether federal resources are being directed to evidence-based programs that are most effective at treating the seriously mentally ill. We know that various agencies across the federal government have different programs for the care and treatment of the mentally ill. To determine exactly what funding and programs exist, the Committee sent a bipartisan letter on April 10, 2013, to Office of Management and Budget (OMB) Acting Director Jeffrey Zients, requesting that OMB compile a list of all programs, the amount each program receives annually, and the amount dedicated to the treatment of serious mental illness. As of today, the Committee has not received a response to this letter.

Mr. President, we know that the seriously mentally ill are far more likely to be victims of violence than perpetrators. We also know, though, from the testimony of experts who have appeared before the Committee that those who suffer from serious mental illness, like schizophrenia, bipolar disorder or major depression, are two or three times more likely to exhibit violent behavior – to themselves or others. They are one of the most vulnerable populations, not only because they are more likely to be victims of violence, but also because there does not appear to be a coordinated system for helping these individuals or their families get treatment. Further, some with the most serious mental illnesses may not even recognize that they are sick and refuse treatment.

Tragically, these violent acts are wholly preventable, but effective treatment and hospitalization has been replaced with homelessness and incarceration. Nearly a third of homeless persons have a serious mental illness, and in some prisons, half of female inmates and twenty percent of male prisoners have a mental illness.

Given our shared commitment in finding solutions, I respectfully ask your assistance, Mr. President, in securing the information requested by the Committee. With this information, we can ensure federal funding is reaching those with serious mental illness and those programs provide the most effective care because tragically, less than half of children and adults with diagnosable mental health problems receive treatment.

Thank you for your attention to this matter. I look forward to working together to fix our broken mental healthcare system so we prevent tragedies like Newtown from occurring again and give families the hope and resources they need to help loved ones suffering from illness.


Tim Murphy
Member of Congress