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Obama seeks to strengthen U.S. mental healthcare

Wednesday January 16, 2013
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As part of an effort to reduce gun violence, the Obama administration called Wednesday for improvements to mental healthcare in the United States.

Among proposed legislation and pending executive orders relating to gun violence, President Obama stated his administration would finalize "mental health parity" regulations, which require mental healthcare to be covered the same way as physical healthcare.

Leon Rodriguez, director of the Office for Civil Rights at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, sent a letter to the nation’s healthcare providers, stressing that "the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act Privacy Rule does not prevent your ability to disclose necessary information about a patient to law enforcement, family members of the patient or other persons when you believe the patient presents a serious danger to himself or other people."

Rodriguez added: "When a healthcare provider believes in good faith that such a warning is necessary to prevent or lessen a serious and imminent threat to the health or safety of the patient or others, the Privacy Rule allows the provider, consistent with applicable law and standards of ethical conduct, to alert those persons whom the provider believes are reasonably able to prevent or lessen the threat." (See a PDF of the letter at www.hhs.gov/ocr/office/lettertonationhcp.pdf.)

Obama also pledged to issue guidance "making clear that the Affordable Care Act does not prevent doctors from talking to patients about gun safety." He wants to bolster access to mental health services in schools as well.

"We know that the vast majority of Americans with a mental illness are not violent, but we also know that more than 60% of people who experience mental illness do not receive treatment and that crisis situations can develop without proper treatment," Kathleen Sebelius, secretary of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, said in a news release.

Obama also plans to send a presidential memo to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, directing it to research the causes and prevention of gun violence. By edict of Congress, researchers are prohibited from using federal funds to advocate or promote gun control.

Obama said he views such research not as advocacy, but as "critical public health research that gives all Americans information they need." However, Congress retains authority over funding for individual research initiatives.


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