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Clinical Psychologist Turned Congressman Prescribes Mental Health Fix to Prevent Mass Shootings
By Philip Wegmann
Reprinted with permission of Daily Caller News Foundation

Rep. Tim Murphy, R-Pa., thinks he has a solution for much of the surge in mass shootings. Rather than reacting with new gun control measures, Murphy proposes to overhaul the nation’s mental health system to get at what he believes is the root of the violence.

Recent mass murders have given that reform effort traction. And, in an interview, Murphy told The Daily Signal he hopes to refurbish federal laws to better help those who suffer from mental illness before they can harm others.

“This bill would have some of the most substantive reforms of the last 50 years,” Murphy said.

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Although his bill would do little to stop an attack like the one Wednesday in San Bernardino, Calif., Murphy said, it could prevent another mass murder like the one in 2012 at Sandy Hook Elementary in Newtown, Conn.

In most such shootings, Murphy said, law enforcement “usually encounters someone who is untreated or undertreated for serious mental illness.” Early detection of the sickness is essential to prevention, he said.

A clinical psychologist turned congressman, Murphy, 63, sits on the House Energy and Commerce Committee’s subcommittee on health. He began his investigation of federal mental health laws three years ago.

Now the House’s GOP leadership is pointing to Murphy’s bill as a specific solution to an ongoing problem of mass shootings.

“Clearly we can do more, and one common denominator in these tragedies is mental illness and that is why we need to look at fixing our nation’s mental illness health system,” House Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wis., told reporters Tuesday, speaking of the Planned Parenthood shooting.

Ryan said members of both parties “should make this a priority to prevent the violence and to protect our citizens.”

Still, getting the bill passed this year, or in early 2016, could prove a long shot.

Although Murphy says his bill enjoys “broad bipartisan support,” the legislation only advanced through the House Subcommittee on Health by a 18-12 vote along party lines. And although 45 of the bill’s 160 cosponsors are Democrats, some critics already call it a one-sided effort.

“That bill, the Murphy bill, has become unfortunately a partisan bill when it could have been a totally bipartisan bill,” Rep Xavier Becerra, D-Calif., told The New York Times. “And that’s unfortunate, because we need to get these done.”

Murphy, in his seventh term, told The Daily Signal that his reform effort transcends party politics. Both opponents and advocates of gun control should be able to support the legislation, he said, because it’s “entirely separate from the gun issue.”

After the Planned Parenthood shooting Nov. 27 in Colorado, President Obama renewed his call for increased background checks before gun purchases. At a press conference Tuesday, Obama said he would push Congress “to act in order to make sure that we’re preventing people who are deranged or have violent tendencies from getting weapons that can magnify the damage that they do.”

His office “has made a number of attempts to get the White House involved” in his reform effort, but “they have not been responsive,” Murphy told The Daily Signal. “I don’t know why.”

However, the Pennsylvania congressman added, that he haa been working closely with Ryan on the measure.

Murphy’s legislation, dubbed the Helping Families in Mental Health Crisis Act, would repeal a 1960s-era ban on using federal dollars to pay for residential treatment in psychiatric hospitals.

Currently, states must shoulder the bill for psychiatric care for the poor and homeless. As a result, the number of psychiatric resources is scarce.

The bill also would amend the 1996 Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act to bring a patient’s family into the loop concerning treatment. Murphy maintains that mental health patients do best when families take an active role in treatment.

Only information pertinent to care—such as prescriptions and medications—could be shared, not private conversations between psychiatrists and patients.

Finally, the bill would completely overhaul the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. In addition, the legislation would create an assistant secretary for mental health and substance abuse disorders at the Department of Health and Human services.

Murphy said he rejects a Congressional Budget Office report that estimates his bill would cost anywhere between $3 billion and $46 billion over the next decade. He doesn’t know how the CBO arrived at that estimate, he said.

“That number is not accurate,” Murphy said. “I think it will be a small fraction of that.”

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