August 2021 Updates from The Kennedy Forum | The Kennedy Forum

August 2021 Updates from The Kennedy Forum
August 31, 2021

This month, Patrick and Amy Kennedy participated in a virtual Spotlight Series event hosted by The Kennedy Forum Illinois titled “Back to School: The Mental Health Impact on Students and Education.” The event explored ways in which school systems can recognize and support the mental health of students, faculty, and staff to benefit the communities they serve. More below.

The U.S. Department of Labor and New York State Attorney General brought joint parity enforcement actions against UnitedHealthcare…More below.

Policy Pulse

On August 25, HB 2595, a bill led by The Kennedy Forum Illinois, was signed into law by Illinois Governor J.B. Pritzker. The new law requires insurers to cover medically necessary mental health and substance use disorder treatment in a manner consistent with generally accepted standards of care and to use transparent medical necessity criteria published by non-profit clinical societies for level of care medical necessity criteria. Illinois is the third state to put in place these critical requirements. Early this summer, Oregon enacted similar legislation, while California was the first state to put these rules in place by enacting SB 855 last September. After enactment of SB 855, The Kennedy Forum created the Jim Ramstad Model State Legislation to Advance Mental Health and Addiction Equity, which is supported by more than three dozen national organizations. Read more here.

Illinois Governor J.B. Pritzker at the signing of HB 2595. 

In August, Patrick joined other national mental health leaders in urging CA Governor Gavin Newsom to support the passage of AB 988 (Bauer-Kahan), which would implement a critically needed alternative to 911 for people experiencing mental health crises. Read the letter here

Patrick and The Kennedy Forum applauded Sen. Ron Wyden, Chairman of the Senate Committee on Finance, and Sen. Mike Crapo, Ranking Member of the Senate Committee on Finance, for inviting fellow committee members to contribute to a bipartisan Finance Committee effort on addressing barriers to mental health care. Read their letter here

Labor Secretary Marty Walsh and NY Attorney General Letitia James recently brought joint enforcement actions against the nation’s largest insurer for failing to provide appropriate levels of coverage for mental health and addiction treatment services. Get the details in our latest blog post, “A Breakdown of UnitedHealthcare’s Recent Parity Settlements,” here.

Campaigns & Resources

A recent column in the Journal of Psychiatric Practice by members of The Kennedy Forum Illinois (KFI) leadership offers guidance to help patients secure insurance coverage of medically necessary treatment for mental health and addiction challenges—as well as letter templates and suggested text. “Providing a Routine Medical Necessity Letter to Improve Access to Care for Our Patients” is co-authored by Joseph Feldman, MBA, KFI Board Member; Mark DeBofsky, JD, Member, DeBofsky, Casciari, Sherman, Reynolds, and Adjunct Professor of Law at University of Illinois-Chicago School of Law; Eric M. Plakun, MD, Medical Director/CEO, The Austen Riggs Center, and Founder, American Psychiatric Association Psychotherapy Caucus; and Cheryl Potts, MBA, KFI Executive Director. Access it here

Help spread the word about National Opioid and Substance Awareness Day (NOSAD) on Tuesday, September 21 and the (free) live virtual town hall co-hosted by the Brigham Comprehensive Opioid Response and Education (B-CORE) Program in partnership with The Kennedy Forum, SAMHSA, Mental Health America, The Voices Project, Shatterproof, the American Association for the Treatment of Opioid Dependence (AATOD), and the American Academy of Addiction Psychiatry (AAAP). Download and share this flyer via email or this short animated video via social media.

Our latest round of Don’t Deny Me campaign posts for partner organizations addressed the new school year and International Overdose Awareness Day. See sample posts here and here.

Education Focus

In her monthly blog post titled “An Entire Nation Traumatized,” Madhuri Jha, LCSW, MPJ, director of the Kennedy-Satcher Center for Mental Health Equity (KSCMHE), explores the impact of watching events unfold in Afghanistan, COVID deaths, surging gun violence and hate crimes, climate change, and more. As Madhuri explains, “If mental health equity is health equity, then trauma-informed care can no longer be seen as a purely a psychological intervention…Efforts should be geared towards applying a trauma-informed policy lens to all areas that Americans interface with, such as medicine, education, criminal justice, and employment.” Read the full post here.

Education Focus

Amy Kennedy, education director of The Kennedy Forum, wrote this op-ed for The Philadelphia Inquirer about strategic investments New Jersey and other states should consider for prioritizing mental health in schools long-term. “The American Rescue Plan provided $130 billion in funding for school reopening, including $2.7 billion for New Jersey. While these investments are a good start, the funds are only a short-term, partial solution for a long-term problem that will continue after the immediate public health emergency.”

The National PTA will be hosting a special “Back to Class” virtual town hall Sept. 1 at 1 p.m. ET in partnership with the CDC, moderated by NBC News correspondent and mom Kate Snow, and featuring U.S. Secretary of Education Dr. Miguel Cardona. The town hall will be streamed live on National PTA’s Facebook page and can be watched immediately following as a recording on Facebook for those who are unable to join live. The hour-long agenda includes a conversation with CDC Director Dr. Rochelle P. Walensky and Secretary Cardona about the new safety guidance for our students and schools, as well as features American Academy of Pediatrics President Dr. Lee Ann Savio Beers, American Psychological Association Chief Executive Director Dr. Arthur C. Evans Jr. and other experts in family engagement, family-school partnerships, mental health and social emotional well-being. Please share with your networks!

In the News

David Lloyd, senior policy advisor for The Kennedy Forum, recently spoke to NPR about the societal impact of high costs for mental health care: increased unemployment, disability, and overdose deaths. Listen to the segment (or read the transcript) here.

Patrick was featured in a Psychology Today article about the great impact of public figures sharing their mental health and/or addiction challenges publicly and becoming advocates. Read it here

Well Being Trust’s Ben Miller and Patrick Kennedy co-authored an op-ed about Congress’s failure to correct Medicare’s woefully inadequate coverage for mental health and addiction. “Just another example of how we marginalize mental health in policy.” Read it here

Patrick praised the recent announcement from New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio and First Lady Chirlane McCray about a new comprehensive website and public education campaign to connect New Yorkers to mental health and addiction resources. See his comments in this press release about “Mental Health for All.”

David Lloyd spoke to Mental Health Weekly about a renewed focus on parity compliance in the wake of the UnitedHealthcare settlement. It is believed to be the first parity enforcement action announced jointly by the federal government and a state agency. Read the article here.


On August 31, Patrick and Madhuri Jha, LCSW, MPH, director of the Kennedy-Satcher Center for Mental Health Equity (KSCMHE) at Morehouse School of Medicine (and practicing psychotherapist) held a Facebook Live conversation titled, “Complex Trauma: What Everyone Needs to Know.

The two thought leaders addressed the impact of complex trauma stemming from the COVID-19 pandemic, why government and business leaders need to take it seriously, and how every American can advocate for better access to mental health care moving forward. Watch it here.

On August 30, Patrick and Amy Kennedy participated in a virtual Spotlight Series event hosted by The Kennedy Forum Illinois titled, “Back to School: The Mental Health Impact on Students and Education.” The event explored ways in which school systems can recognize and support the mental health of students, faculty, and staff to benefit the communities they serve. Watch it here.

Upcoming Events

National Opioid and Substance Awareness Day 
September 21, 2021 
National Opioid and Substance Awareness Day will take place on Tuesday, September 21. Patrick J. Kennedy will be part of a virtual town hall the same day from 12-3pm ET. Topics of discussion will include an overview of the science of addiction, the value of naloxone and evidence-based treatments, and the impact of COVID-19. Other elements of NOSAD include free online, anonymous screenings, introduction to SAMHSA’s treatment locator, and more. 

Mobilize Recovery Conference 
September 24-27, 2021 
Mobilize Recovery is an initiative of Recovery Advocacy Project and The Voices Project. Its mission is to expand policy to support recovery, create connections to supportive services that are vital and lifesaving, and to engage affected individuals in meaningful civic action. The initiative convenes advocates with lived experience to build capacity for organized civic engagement with new leadership across the country. The Kennedy Forum is proud to be a partner of this initiative. 

Mental Health Equity is Health Equity 
September 28 & 29, 2021 | 11am-2pm daily 
A 2-day virtual speaker symposium from the Kennedy-Satcher Center for Mental Health Equity (KSCMHE). The invited panelists will represent a diverse, inclusive and unique set of voices in the field, to speak on issues related to policy and data; clinical services; and cultural humility and sensitivity.

The Kennedy Forum’s Sixth Annual Meeting
October 6 & 13, 2021

Join The Kennedy Forum’s Sixth Annual Meeting, “Our Words Matter: Harnessing the Power of Communications to Advance Mental Health Equity” on October 6th & 13th from 1pm – 5pm ET/12pm – 4pm CT/11am – 3pm MT/10am – 2pm PT. More information about registration and speakers coming soon.

View sponsorship opportunities here. To learn more, please reach out directly to Cheryl Potts at