Former Rhode Island Congressman Patrick Kennedy has become a very visible advocate for mental health services, fighting now from outside the halls of power.
Taking his place on the inside is another member of the august family, Rep. Joe Kennedy III of Massachusetts.
Joe is happy to pick up the baton from Patrick, who he credits for leading the charge in his days as a congressman. "He deserves a lot of credit for putting attention on this issue," Joe Kennedy told me in a phone interview.
Joe is waging that battle on two fronts at the moment.
Last week, Kennedy pressed the Obama administration to review how proposed health insurance company mergers could affect access to mental health and substance abuse treatment.
Proposed mergers of Anthem and Cigna, and of Aetna and Humana, will consolidate the five biggest insurers into just three, Kennedy told me. "There could be a decrease in accessibility of health care for people who need it," he said. He sent a letter to the Department of Justice and the Federal Trade Commission, in part to let them know that "Congress is looking very carefully at the impact on mental health care."
Accessibility to services is also Kennedy's priority as a mental health care reform bill heads through one of his subcommittees this week.
That bill, authored by Pennsylvania Republican Rep. Tim Murphy, draws some praise from Kennedy. But, he says, there are serious differences he hopes can be worked out through the markup process this week.
First among those concerns: "Making sure there will be resources allocated," through Medicaid and elsewhere, to incentivize providers to offer needed services.
"There just aren't enough treatment options," especially for lower-income patients, Kennedy says. "Not enough beds, not enough doctors, not enough continuum of care."
He gives Murphy, and Commerce Committee Chair Rep. Fred Upton, credit for willingness to work with Democrats. But, judging by a letter Kennedy and other Democrats sent to Upton a week ago, it sounds like there is a long way to go before they are willing to support the bill.
Family Leave Passes — For Veterans
Congress has been unwilling to move on expanding family leave for most Americans, but Rep. Stephen Lynch of Boston, along with bipartisan colleagues, has essentially shamed the body into doing something for a select group: new federal government employees who are veterans with disabilities.
As it stands now, those workers start their jobs with no accrued sick leave. If they need to attend medical appointments, they must take unpaid leave — or go without necessary treatment.
Even the image of the United States government forcing its own former soldiers to choose between pay and medical care has not made Lynch's Wounded Warriors Federal Leave Act a slam dunk. Not that anybody would dare to vote against it; but in the past, congressional leaders have kept the bill from reaching the floor, presumably to protect members from the need to vote on a spending bill — one which could also set a precedent for supporting the general concept of broad paid family leave.
That hurdle has now been leaped. The House quietly passed the bill without dissent on September 28, and the Senate did the same last week, on October 27.
Lynch's office tells me they have not heard from the White House yet, but they expect President Obama to sign the bill soon.
Social Media Picture Of The Week
There were disappointingly few pictures of the members of Congress in costume, but Rep. David Cicilline of Rhode Island did tweet these pictures of himself reverse trick-or-treating, delivering candy door-to-door.
Enjoyed visiting w/ residents at Crepeau Court in Woonsocket & went door-to-door delivering Halloween candy. pic.twitter.com/QFzYn65fud