Veteran Mental Health Bill Sent To Trump, Other Bills Proceed

By Kevin Stawicki
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Law360 (September 23, 2020, 10:54 PM EDT) -- U.S. Senate and House lawmakers passed a sweeping bill Wednesday to address mental health care for veterans, just days after the House passed a host of bills to bolster the national stockpile's medical supplies, update Medicaid benefits and let the government destroy counterfeit medical devices.

On Wednesday, the Commander John Scott Hannon Veterans Mental Health Care Improvement Act was passed by a voice vote in the House and Senate and now heads to the president's desk. If signed, the law would provide $174 million to help veterans access mental health care. 

The law would require the Department of Veterans Affairs and Department of Defense to develop a plan on how to help veterans access health care after being discharged from service and create community-based programs that provide access to various types of mental health services and therapies. The Government Accountability Office would also be tasked with studying suicide within the veteran population and evaluate the adequacy of VA mental health services. 

"Today is a win for bipartisanship," House Veterans Affairs Committee Chair Mark Takano, D-Calif., said in a statement. "There is still so much more we need to do to comprehensively reduce veteran suicide, but this is a good first step."  

Earlier this week, the U.S. House of Representatives approved nearly a dozen health-related bills that make substantial changes to the health care system.

Frank Pallone Jr., D-N.J., chairman of the House Committee on Energy and Commerce and the Health Subcommittee, said in a statement that the latest slate of bills fill gaps in health care.

"These bills address shortcomings and make strategic improvements throughout our health care system," he said. "They address the maternal mortality crisis, study and prevent sudden infant and child death, ensure Medicaid beneficiaries have access to non-emergency medical transportation and support programs to prevent self-harm and suicide."

By a voice vote, the House on Monday approved a bill that would give the Food and Drug Administration $80 million per year to put toward a national program to help pharmaceutical companies develop continuous manufacturing with more research and workforce training.

The House also approved H.R. 5663, the Safeguarding Therapeutics Act, which would give the FDA the authority to seize counterfeit medical devices and products, including vaccines. Counterfeit medical devices have been the subject of litigation and court orders recently, especially during the COVID-19 pandemic.

If the bill gets the president's signature, the Federal Food, Drug and Cosmetics Act would be updated to define a counterfeit device to mean a medical device whose packaging would bear an unauthorized trademark or any other identifying mark of another manufacturer.

"Counterfeit health products pose a serious risk to Americans," Rep. Brett Guthrie, R-Ky., said in a statement when the bill was introduced in January. "The Safeguarding Therapeutics Act will help ensure that these devices do not get into the hands of patients."

Another bill that made its way through the House this week was H.R. 7574, the Strengthening America's Strategic National Stockpile Act of 2020. The bipartisan bill, introduced by Reps. Elissa Slotkin, D-Mich., and Susan Brooks, R-Ind., would strengthen the National Strategic Stockpile's ability to procure medical supplies through a new requirement that the Department of Health and Human Services continuously monitor the supplies.

And a bill that would update Medicaid to allow for non-emergency medical transportation to be included as a mandatory Medicaid benefit was also passed on Monday. H.R. 3935, the Protecting Patients Transportation to Care Act, would require state Medicaid to update their utilization management system to accommodate the change.

The House also passed H.R. 4995, the Maternal Health Quality Improvement Act of 2019, that would create new maternal health programs that address socioeconomic and racial disparities in health outcomes. 

In what could provide relief for first responders, particularly during the coronavirus pandemic, if it gets to the president's desk is H.R. 1646, the Helping Emergency Responders Overcome Act of 2019. The bill, which was passed on Monday, would require the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to monitor public safety officer suicides and investigate new behavioral health programs.

--Additional reporting by Emily Field. Editing by Emily Kokoll.

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