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TMCNet:  Committee To Review Mental Health

[January 21, 2013]

Committee To Review Mental Health

Jan 21, 2013 (Congressional Documents and Publications/ContentWorks via COMTEX) -- Oversight and Investigations Chairman Tim Murphy was tasked this week to lead a thorough bipartisan examination of federal mental health policies and programs.

Alongside House Energy & Commerce Committee Chairman Fred Upton, Murphy's subcommittee is working on a thorough review of every mental healthcare program within the committee's jurisdiction. In particular, the Congressman will be reviewing spending by Medicaid and community mental health grant programs to ensure tax dollars are getting down to the level of the patient, and children in particular. In addition the Committee will be reviewing research in violent behavior underway at the CDC, National Institutes of Health and Mental Health and seek out any and all expert perspectives as part of this examination into violence, firearms, and mental illness.

"The underlying cause in mass tragedies like Newtown is that the perpetrator had an untreated or undertreated mental illness," said Rep. Murphy. "I am going to be relentless in embarking on a meaningful effort to gather information, determine the causes, identify the treatments, and make sure all federal dollars on mental health are spent effectively because it's not just what is in a person's hand that makes the act violent, it is what's in his mind." Over the past several weeks, Dr. Murphy has been an outspoken voice on advocating meaningful reforms in the mental health arena. The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette recently published an article by Rep. Murphy about where policymakers should go from here. Murphy's focus on mental health policy was also profiled this week in CQ Roll Call. You can read the full article titled, "Murphy to Focus Panel on Mental Health Policies, Funding" online here

Following the White House announcement Wednesday on executive level actions and legislative proposals in the wake of the Newtown shooting, Murphy pledged to "review the proposals" in good faith with "the shared goal of preventing tragedies like Newtown from occurring again. I am approaching this effort with the seriousness the families of Newtown, indeed all families across the nation, deserve from their elected officials and will examine all aspects of the President's recommendations." With only one of the executive orders explicitly referencing mental health, Murphy said he had hoped the President's proposal would have included a greater focus on the critical issue of mental health, which remains the underlying cause in mass tragedies.

"For too long, mental illness has been a topic saved for the shadows, often going unmentioned," said Rep. Murphy. "I know this firsthand from my work with countless families in crisis struggling to help a loved one with mental illness. I believe Newtown serves to inspire thoughtful examination and action on mental health policies. I welcome the opportunity to lead the Oversight and Investigation Subcommittee in a meaningful conversation on mental health as we examine mental health resources and programs across the federal spectrum." To share your thoughts with Congressman Murphy on his work to examine mental health policy, please go to: sectionid=174.

Two Hurricane Sandy Emergency Relief Proposals Considered Following Hurricane Sandy last October, over 140,000 homeowners waited for Congress to act on their federal flood insurance claims. When Congress took up the legislation the first week of January, Rep. Murphy voted in favor of H.R.41, giving the National Flood Insurance Program the authority to move forward and pay out those claims to help these families get on with rebuilding their lives.

On Tuesday, Congress took up two more Sandy relief bills, designed as "emergency relief" to aid the region in cleaning up the massive amounts of debris, as well as rebuild ruined infrastructure like power lines and roads.

Rep. Murphy voted in favor of the first emergency relief plan, which passed by a vote of 327-91, saying: "When natural disasters rip through and destroy our communities, Americans do not just shrug our shoulders and walk away. We come together to help those in need and invest in rebuilding our nation's infrastructure.

That initial emergency aid bill would have provided the funding to get structures like roads, bridges and federal property damaged or destroyed by the storm quickly rebuilt. But as it often goes in Congress, the initial emergency relief plan that was painstakingly drawn up to provide needed emergency funding was replaced with another bill which included special projects and funding for regional-specific long term projects completely unrelated to Hurricane Sandy.

Murphy said he was "disappointed that in the very moment Congress should have been acting in the best interest of those of in need, some lawmakers seized this emergency spending bill and used it as an opportunity to get special projects funded." The new legislation added $34 billion in new spending for things like new community development grants and computer systems for some government agencies. The funding was designated as "emergency relief" but it was not storm-related. Murphy said this funding should have gone through regular order and not bogged down the emergency relief bill. Each year, Congress deliberates on 13 separate spending bills which provide funding for yearly and long-term projects.

"These unrelated items may be entirely justified and needed, but they cannot be described as emergency spending," said. Rep. Murphy. "But this funding should have gone through regular order where lawmakers could review the merits of the projects during the yearly budget and appropriations process. Congress has a process for reviewing non-emergency spending and the Sandy relief bill should not have been used for those purposes." Murphy voted no on the final $50.7 billion measure, which passed 240-180.

"When towns are destroyed by a natural disaster, we always come together to help our fellow countrymen in their time of need. It is my goal to ensure that no one attempts to use emergency spending bills in the future as an opportunity to steer funding away from those who need it most," said Murphy.

The final version of the House Sandy bill is now awaiting consideration in the Senate.

To share your thoughts on the funding bill, please go to: sectionid=174.

Committee Releases Report On Overseas Stimulus Spending As part of an ongoing effort to cut government spending, the House Energy and Commerce Committee has been conducting a top-to-bottom review of redundant, wasteful and questionable federal programs. This week, the Committee released an in-depth report from its ongoing investigation on the implementation of a stimulus 'green energy' program under Section 1603 of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act.

The report, "American Taxpayer Investment, Foreign Corporation Benefit," reveals that foreign renewable energy companies have benefited extensively from the stimulus-created program while American firms have been put at a competitive disadvantage. The committee discovered one out of every four dollars of the $16 billion spent on the "Section 1603" stimulus program has gone to foreign-owned entities.

"The more we learn about DOE's stimulus spending, the worse it appears," said Oversight and Investigations Subcommittee Chairman Murphy, who voted against the stimulus. "The 1603 green energy program failed to deliver the jobs promised, and now we learn that a significant portion of these taxpayer-funded grants are benefiting foreign competitors." The 1603 program has come under fire from a number of watchdog groups, including a group of Senate Democrats who criticized the program's payout to foreign companies. Despite these concerns, the President's FY 2013 Budget proposed extending the program for another year. While this extension has not been granted, the Congressional Research Service estimates that at least $6 billion remains to be paid out under the program.

Murphy said oversight of the section 1603 program would continue as lawmakers work to determine if American taxpayer dollars were used by project recipients to buy solar panels and windmills made in foreign factories.

"We will continue our rigorous oversight of this program to help protect taxpayers' dollars, now turning our attention to the sourcing of major components manufactured overseas for stimulus-supported projects," said Murphy. "Our end goal is to stop this from ever happening again." To read the full report, go to:

To share your thoughts with Congressman Murphy on the findings of this stimulus report, please go to: sectionid=174.

Early Flu Season Discussed With CDC Officials With hospitals and county health departments reporting a high number of seasonal influenza cases, Congressman Tim Murphy reached out to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) for a status update about efforts currently underway to protect public health. The CDC told Rep. Murphy that the country is seeing an earlier-than-usual flu season, and the agency is encouraging the public to take steps to help stop the spread of the virus.

This year's flu season is only unusual because it started one month earlier than in previous years. According to the agency, an annual seasonal flu vaccine (either the flu shot or the nasal-spray flu vaccine) is the best way to reduce the chances that you will get seasonal flu and lessen the chance that you will spread it to others. Each year since 2004, the CDC has assessed the effectiveness of the flu vaccine against outbreaks. Their data suggests the vaccine's estimated effectiveness against this year's strain of H3N2 was 62 percent--which means that those receiving vaccines are 62 percent less likely to experience prevent influenza-associated, medically attended acute respiratory infection (ARI).

Flu vaccines work by causing antibodies to develop in the body about two weeks after vaccination. These antibodies provide protection against infection with the viruses that are in the vaccine. Right now, the CDC cannot yet predict whether the flu season has run its natural course. The number of cases remains elevated in most of the United States but is also decreasing in some regions.

It's important to note that there is no nationwide shortage of vaccines, according to the CDC, and those who have yet to be vaccinated are encouraged to obtain it.

There are also preventative actions you can take to avoid the spread of germs. For example, avoiding close contact with sick people; washing your hands often with soap and water or an alcohol based hand sanitizer; avoiding touching your eyes, nose and mouth; covering up with a tissue when coughing or sneezing; and staying home for at least 24 hours after a fever is gone if you are sick with a flu like illness.

During the briefing, the CDC noted that healthcare workers are obtaining the flu vaccination at record levels. In addition to children and pregnant women, individuals at high risk of developing serious complications like pneumonia if they get sick with the flu should also be vaccinated. This includes people who have certain medical conditions including asthma, diabetes, and chronic lung disease and people 65 years and older.

Murphy and CDC officials also discussed what work needs to be done to create a more effective vaccine in the future. The CDC shared their goals to create a vaccine that doesn't need to be given each year, as well as one that works more effectively for larger groups of people. While the vaccines have improved greatly, the CDC is hopeful they will have a new and improved vaccine within the next several years.

Next week, the House will take up public health legislation called the Pandemic and All-Hazards Preparedness Reauthorization Act (H.R. 307). The legislation would reauthorize partnerships between the CDC and local public health agencies that assist in response to an outbreak of pandemic influenza.

To share your thoughts with Congressman Murphy on ways to improve public health efforts during flu season, please go to: sectionid=174.

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