September 2021 Updates from The Kennedy Forum
October 4, 2021

This month, Patrick J. Kennedy and The Kennedy Forum called on Congress to allow audio-only telehealth services, which are essential for treatment of mental health and substance use disorders—especially for those without access to the technology and digital literacy required for traditional, video-based services—to remain available after the COVID public health emergency. More below.

Missouri became the final state to enforce the Federal Parity Act. More below.

Policy Pulse

Patrick J. Kennedy and The Kennedy Forum called out benefits consulting firm, Segal, for urging state and local governments to opt out of the Mental Health Parity and Addiction Equity Act—thereby decreasing access to mental health and addiction care for public employees, including first responders and other public sector workers on the front lines of the pandemic. Read Segal’s unscrupulous article here. Read Patrick’s tweet thread here. Read The New York Times’ coverage of this issue, “Teachers, Police, Other Public Workers Left Out of Mental Health Coverage,” here

Parity Progress! The House Education and Labor Committee recently included a vital provision in reconciliation language to allow the U.S. Dept. of Labor (DOL) to fine insurers for mental health parity violations. “Enabling DOL to assess fines for violations of the Federal Parity Act is critical to ensuring equal insurance coverage of lifesaving mental health and addiction treatment for Americans,” – Patrick J. Kennedy. Both the Obama Parity Taskforce and the Trump Opioid Commission agreed penalties were needed to end wrongful coverage denials. Read more here

Patrick J. Kennedy and The Kennedy Forum, along with 50 other organizations, subsequently sent a letter to Senator Patty Murray, chair of the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor & Pensions (HELP), urging them to follow the House Education and Labor Committee’s lead and give the U.S. Dept. of Labor the power to assess civil monetary penalties for parity violations. Read it here

Check out this new online map showing states that have adopted The Kennedy Forum’s model legislation to help increase access to mental health and addiction care.

Campaigns & Resources

The Kennedy Forum’s latest round of Don’t Deny Me campaign posts for partner organizations addressed the National Suicide Prevention Week and Recovery Month. See sample posts here and here.

Join us in spreading the word about Vote Early Day, October 23rd, to ensure every American knows their options to vote early in elections big and small. Sign up here.

For the first time in its 40-year history, UNICEF’s State of the World’s Children report will focus on mental health and well-being. Join members of Congress, community partners, UNICEF experts, and youth advocates for the report launch event on October 13th at 11am ET. Learn more here.

Equity Focus

In a guest blog post for the Kennedy-Satcher Center for Mental Health Equity (KSCMHE), First Lady of New York City Chirlane McCrayaddresses “The Mental Fitness of our Children: A look at returning to school during the COVID-19 pandemic.” Read the blog post here

Also this month, KSCMHE created a long-form video, “Mental Health Equity is Health Equity,” which was featured at their Mental Health Equity Symposium (recording available below). Watch the video here and please share it with your networks.

Education Focus

In a guest blog post, The Kennedy Forum’s summer intern, Katharine Smith, looked back on her experience with mental health education in school and advocates for a better path forward. “We talked about mental health in a very clinical way, learning textbook definitions of things like anxiety, eating disorders, and reviewing the history of psychology…We didn’t really have conversations about addressing feelings of depression or anxiety and when/how to get help (and what that might look like)—the practical information that students really need.” Read the post here

As part of their evidence-based program focusing on three strategies that schools can use to protect adolescent health—providing quality health education, connecting youth to health services, and creating safe and supportive school environments—the CDC recently promoted several resources: 

  • The Health Education Curriculum Analysis Tool (or HECAT) can assist schools in selecting or developing effective health education curricula, which includes mental health, and improving the delivery of health education. 
  • The Classroom Management Toolprovides a summary of the classroom management approaches and skills that research suggests can strengthen school connectedness
  • The LGBTQ Inclusivity Tool is designed to assist schools and districts in addressing the overall health and academic needs of LGBTQ students.

Coalition Building

This month, the Action Alliance’s Mental Health & Suicide Prevention National Response to COVID-19 (National Response) shared a new video about its work to create sustainable and comprehensive solutions. Patrick J. Kennedy serves as co-chair of this public-private initiative, alongside National Institute of Mental Health director, Dr. Josh Gordon. Watch the video here.

In the News

Former Congressman Patrick J. Kennedy, co-author of the Mental Health Parity and Addiction Equity Act of 2008, recently spoke to The New York Times about how alarming exemptions under state or local government insurance coverage for teachers, police officers, and other essential workers, along with discriminatory coverage practices in many health plans, have made it difficult for public employees to receive the mental health and addiction care they need. Read the article here

Amy Kennedy, education director of The Kennedy Forum, recently spoke to 47ABC about Suicide Prevention Month and the need for better mental health supports in education and health care. “We are ignoring all the steps leading up to this point…we need to really be focused on how to help someone before they are getting to a hotline.” Watch and read here

David Lloyd, senior policy advisor of The Kennedy Forum, recently spoke to CalMatters’ Jocelyn Wiener about the state’s allocation of $20 million to help support the 988 mental health crisis line system. Read the article here

Patrick J. Kennedy joined former U.S. Sen. John E. Sununu in an op-ed calling on Congress to allow audio-only telehealth services, which are essential for treatment of mental health and substance use disorders, to remain available after the COVID public health emergency. “People of color, the elderly, low-income individuals and people living in rural areas are the least likely to have the technology and digital literacy required for traditional, video-based services. Audio-only telehealth ensures access to care for those disadvantaged by the digital divide.” Read it here

David Lloyd spoke to the News Tribune about Missouri becoming the final state to allow its state regulator to enforce the Mental Health Parity and Addiction Equity Act of 2008. Read the article here

Patrick recently congratulated Kirk Lane, Arkansas Drug Director, for receiving the 2021 Ramstad/Kennedy Award for Outstanding Leadership. The award, established in honor of Patrick and the late Congressman Jim Ramstad, is presented annually by the National Recovery Month Planning Partners. Learn more here

The Reagan-Udall Foundation for the FDA will present Patrick with a 2021 Innovations in Regulatory Science Award, which recognizes outstanding contributions to regulatory science and public health in three categories: Leadership, Innovation, and Advocacy/Policy. Read the press release here.

Recordings

On September 21, Patrick participated in a virtual town hall as part of National Opioid and Substance Awareness Day(NOSAD). The event addressed an overview of the science of addiction, the value of naloxone and evidence-based treatments, and the impact of COVID-19. NOSAD also included free, online anonymous screenings, links to treatment, and more. Watch a recording of the town hall event here

On September 28th and 29th, KSCMHE held their inaugural 2-day virtual speaker symposium, “Mental Health Equity is Health Equity.” Panelists representing a diverse, inclusive, and unique set of voices in the field spoke about issues relating to policy and data; clinical services; and cultural humility and sensitivity. Watch a recording of the symposium here.

Upcoming Events

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

Join Emmy Award-winning host, producer, and author Andy Cohen; NBC’s Kate Snow; experts from Netflix’s ‘The Social Dilemma,” and many more at our free, virtual 2-day Annual Meeting, “Our Words Matter: Harnessing the Power of Communications to Advance Mental Health Equity.” 10/6 and 10/13, 1-5pm ET. Register now! View sponsorship opportunities here. To learn more, please reach out directly to James Burns at James@thekennedyforum.org.