New Administration Can’t Abandon Parity in Midst of Addiction Crisis
On Tuesday, January 24, former Congressman Patrick Kennedy announced the Kennedy Forum’s initiative, a Mental Health and Addiction Guide for the 115th Congress. He unveiled the online parity registry and presented the information to a congressional audience at the Russell Senate Office Building. Senator Sheldon Whitehouse, Senator Ed Markey and some members of Congress spoke, as well as Surgeon General Dr. Vivek Murthy. Dr. David Satcher, Surgeon General between 1998 and 2002, also addressed the large crowd.
Mental Health and Addiction treatment often go hand in hand. Dr. Nora Volkow, Director of NIDA (National Institute of Drug Abuse) spoke, too. Two mothers who experienced denial of coverage for children with mental health/addiction problems recounted their stories. A large number of mental health care advocates were also in the audience.
Although the Trump Administration promises to replace the Affordable Health Act, we cannot give up on treating mental health. In fact, mental health and addiction treatment need to be front and center of any health care legislation. All of us have seen photos of parents passed out in cars from accidental overdoses, toddlers in tow. The more 52,000 drug overdose death in 2015 are a national tragedy. We will continue to lose too many young people this way, if we don’t treat the addictive disorders. The number of drug deaths far outstrip any other accidental cause of death, including guns and vehicle crashes.
History of Parity Legislation
A member of Congress between 1994 and 2008, Representative Kennedy sponsored legislation requiring mental health parity, and worked diligently for its passage. Since President George W. Bush signed the legislation back in 2008, insurance companies must give equal health care to mental and addictive disorders.
However, violations continue. “We are literally living in denial when we refuse to acknowledge that this law is being blatantly disregarded on a daily basis, leaving millions of Americans unable to access needed mental health and addiction treatment and services,” Kennedy explained. That is why the Parity Registry, sponsored by the Kennedy Forum is important. By logging onto parityregistry.org, those with an insurance issue may network with others, get advice and take action.
There are rumblings that the new administration will try to get rid of mental health parity. Drug abuse deaths and overdoses account for far more deaths than any other accidental cause, more than 52,000 in 2016. It would be the absolute worst time in recent history to get rid of mental health and addiction treatment. Those who are ages 25-34 are dying at a rate five times the death rate for those ages in 1999!
Mental Health and Physical Health: It’s All Connected Anyways
New studies are relating childhood mental health to trauma, often because of addicted parents. Studies suggest that treating mental health issues at the onset of problems will prevent later addiction and mental health issues. Early traumas are also related to heart disease, cancer and autoimmune diseases. So treating the mental health issues at the source is important to avoiding all kinds of health care costs later.
The Kennedy Forum is also advocating for better care and improved behavioral health outcomes.
The US has experienced crushing health care costs from the diabetes epidemic. However the rate appears to be going down slightly because Americans are listening to warnings. We now know the epidemic is partially caused by the over-consumption of sugar, processed food and fast food. Let’s do the same for mental health care and addiction avoiding many of the variables that feed into mental illness and addiction.
Just as avoiding sugar may guard against diabetes, avoiding marijuana may guard against mental illness, psychosis and suicide attempts. Avoiding marijuana while young also helps prevent the gateway effect into other drugs. Drug overdose deaths have doubled since 2004. The rate of increase in drug-related deaths has been increasing dramatically since 2012. Legalized marijuana began about this time, also.
The Kennedy initiative pushes for the incorporation of mental health assessments and addiction education into early childhood education. Parents Opposed to Pot also supports early anti-drug and addiction education. We encourage parents not to use marijuana and other drugs to protect their children’s mental health. We believe the high use of marijuana by teens today is feeding more drug addiction in the future.
Patrick Kennedy says it’s time for the political science to catch up with the neuroscience of addiction. Last November he participated in a forum on the use and misuse of addictive substances. The Kennedy Forum, Kennedy founded One Mind for Research, a global leader in open science collaboration in brain research. Patrick is the son of the late Senator Edward “Ted” Kennedy.