Two Republican Senators Who Care About Mental Health Are Playing Key Roles In Trumpcare


(5-11-17) All of Washington is talking about the firing of former FBI Director James Comey, but let’s not forget that Senate Republicans are in the midst of rewriting a health care bill that could have a major impact on mental health care.

Fortunately, one of the 13 Republicans drafting Trumpcare has authored mental health care legislation. Another senator, who is not on the all white male redraft and repeal Obamacare panel, has gained national attention for demanding a higher bar than what can be found in the House’s hastily passed version.

The Senators are: John Cornyn (Tex.), the majority whip in the Senate, and Dr. Bill Cassidy (La.) who is a freshman but is highly regarded for his medical expertise.

Both played pivotal roles in the fading days of the Obama administration in passing mental health bills. Sen. Cornyn authored the Mental Health and Safe Communities Act ,which uses federal funds to encourage jail diversion, support Crisis Intervention Team training, and implement mental health courts. All are important programs designed to shift individuals with serious mental illnesses into community treatment programs instead of abandoning them in the never ending – jail-streets-jail-streets – revolving door.

Sen. Cassidy, along with Democrat Sen. Chris Murphy (Conn.), introduced a much changed version of Pennsylvania Republican Rep. Tim Murphy‘s Helping Families in Mental Health Crisis Act  in the Senate. It was Cassidy and Chris Murphy who convinced Republican  Sen. Lamar Alexander, chair of the powerful HELP committee, to push their Mental Health Reform Act through the Senate during December’s lame duck session which led to a compromised version of the House and Senate bills becoming law. Without their leadership in the Senate, there is a good chance that Rep. Tim Murphy’s bill would have died, just as it had in a previous session.

More recently, Sen. Cassidy has become a favorite of news shows because of his comment about Trumpcare having to meet the “Jimmy Kimmel” test in response to an emotional monologue the late night talk show host gave about his newborn son’s open heart surgery. Cassidy’s compassion appealed to many advocates who have warned that the Republican bill could potentially cut millions of mentally ill Americans from Medicaid roles. Medicaid is the largest payer for mental health care.

I first met Sen. Cassidy when he was serving in the House and I appeared at a hearing held after the Newtown elementary school shootings. Dr. Cassidy told me that he had read my book, CRAZY: A Father’s Search Through America’s Mental Health Madness, and I could tell from his questions that he actually had. We exchanged a few emails after that and I became convinced that he was and remains deeply committed to improving our health care system and is especially knowledgable about mental health.

As Majority Whip, Sen. Cornyn is in a crucial but difficult spot because he’ll be called on to rally all of the Republicans behind the gang of 13’s final product. Meanwhile, Sen. Cassidy has emerged as a moderate voice whose vote could tip the results one way or another given the expected close vote on Trumpcare.

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About the author:

Pete Earley is the bestselling author of such books as The Hot House and Crazy. When he is not spending time with his family, he tours the globe advocating for mental health reform.

Learn more about Pete.