PsychCentral: 21st Century Cures Act Becomes Law, Improves U.S. National Mental Health Efforts

Posted 12/13/2016

When President Obama signed the 21st Century Cures Act on December 13th, he signed into law one of the most sweeping efforts to provide additional programs and funding for health conditions and innovation in America, including cancer, Alzheimer’s disease, opioid addiction, medical devices, access to new drugs, and mental health. The Cures Act includes the major provisions of the Senate mental health compromise bill, Mental Health Reform Act of 2016, as well as a few additional provisions from the House’s over-reaching Helping Families in Mental Health Crisis Act of 2016 bill.

While the bill goes a long way in helping fix certain components of mental health care in the nation, it does little for the vast majority of people who suffer from mental health concerns and receive outpatient treatment. Here are the highlights of what just became law.


Assistant Secretary for Mental Health and Substance Use & Chief Medical Officer

The old Senate S.2680 bill declined to burden the system with even more federal bureaucracy by creating a new Assistant Secretary for Mental Health and Substance Use. The bill that was just passed, however, does create such a new position, though — largely replacing the Administrator for SAMHSA. This was an unfortunate change that takes away control of SAMHSA from the experts and instead gives it to politically-appointed leaders. Time will tell whether this actually strengthens mental health leadership in this country, or simply makes it more political.

The Mental Health Reform Act of 2016 did include a newly-created position of Chief Medical Officer, and this position is included in the Cures Act. The chief medical officer must be a physician who is licensed to practice medicine. Unfortunately, this limitation will likely result in the emphasis of the psychiatric perspective over a more balanced biopsychosocial approach.

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