Sen. Cassidy, Rep. Murphy Possible Tom Price Replacements at HHS?

UNITED STATES – DECEMBER 05: Sen. Bill Cassidy, R-La., right, and Rep. Tim Murphy, R-Pa., attend a news conference in the Capitol Visitor Center to call on the Senate to pass mental health reform legislation, December 05, 2016. (Photo By Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)

(10-2-17) Senator Bill Cassidy (La.) and Representative Tim Murphy (Pa.) are among the names of candidates being floated around for replacing Health and Human Secretary Thomas Price, who resigned Friday amid criticism that he used private jets at taxpayers’ expense when less expensive public transportation was available.

Both Republicans played key roles in getting the Helping Families in Mental Health Crisis Act signed into law last year during the waning days of the Obama administration.

Dr. Cassidy, a LSU medical school graduate who specialized in liver diseases, partnered with Senator Lindsey Graham (S.C.) in an unsuccessfully attempt to push through the Republicans most recent effort to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act. He gained national recognition after he told late night talk show host Jimmy Kimmel that any replacement to Obamacare would have to pass the “Kimmel test.” The talk show host later criticized Cassidy for supporting the Graham-Cassidy health care bill that was strongly opposed by the medical community, especially mental health groups, but was backed by President Donald Trump and the White House, admittedly tepidly.

Appointing Cassidy would cost the Republicans a much needed senate seat but Louisiana in recent years has become a safe Republican state.

While lesser known nationally, Rep. Murphy has established himself as a Congressional champion for mental health care reform, first authoring and then doggedly pushing the Helping Families in Mental Health Crisis Act through the House.

The only psychologist in Congress who still treats patients, Murphy was an outspoken critic of the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, a federal agency with a budget of about $3.6 billion a year, most of it dispensed in grants to help states pay for mental health and addiction treatment.

The fiery Murphy claimed SAMHSA squandered its funds on feel good programs that were popular with many consumers (persons with mental illnesses) but were not evidence based. Recently, he has been a strong advocate for providing federal help to curb the opioid crisis.

I’ve met with Cassidy and Murphy, and both are intimately familiar with the need for mental health reform, especially the need to end the inappropriate incarceration of individuals who are sick with mental illnesses and addiction problems.

Murphy, in particular, has talked about breaking down silos between federal agencies responsible for providing comprehensive services to individuals with mental illnesses. It was his bill which created the Assistant Secretary for Mental Health and Substance Abuse position inside HHS to bring federal agencies together when it comes to coordinating mental health services.

Murphy was critical of the White House for appointing Dr. Ellie McCance-Katz, as the first assistant secretary but in her brief tenure she has done an excellent job working to mend fences with him and also set a new course for SAMHSA by working with its top administrators.

Neither Sen. Cassidy nor Rep. Murphy have indicated they might want the HHS Secretary’s job. The agency currently is in the hands of Don Wright, a family medicine physician who embarked on a career in the federal government 14 years ago under then-President George W. Bush and has held a number of senior executive roles.

Whoever is chosen as the HHS Secretary will have the onerous task of launching a third effort to replace and repeal Obamacare, as promised by President Trump.


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.