Washington, D.C., December 22, 2020 – Today, former U.S. Rep. Patrick J. Kennedy, founder of The Kennedy Forum, issued the following statement in response to the U.S. House and Senate passing the Consolidated Appropriation Act, 2021. The package designates $4.25 billion in funding to help states address rapidly escalating mental health and addiction needs and includes language from the bipartisan Strengthening Behavioral Health Parity Act (H.R. 7539)—sponsored by Rep. Joe Kennedy (D-MA)—that will require health plans to demonstrate their compliance with the Mental Health Parity and Addiction Equity Act of 2008 (Federal Parity Law), which says treatment for mental health and substance use disorders can be covered no more restrictively than treatment for illnesses of the body.
“This funding to expand our country’s mental health and addiction response, while long overdue, is a step in the right direction, especially as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) report 81,000 drug overdose fatalities over the last 12 months, ending in May 2020—the highest number of overdose deaths ever recorded in a year-long period.
“But make no mistake: $4.25 billion, which is roughly half of what the House previously passed, is still far from adequate to truly address our growing mental health crisis and deaths of despair. Fortunately, new parity reporting requirements also contained in the relief bill will ultimately go a long way in ensuring more people can access mental health and addiction treatment through their private insurance plans.
“Currently, far too many plans fail to conduct even basic parity compliance analyses to ensure they are in compliance with the Federal Parity Law, more than 12 years after it was enacted. Without parity, families are often left to deplete their life savings or go broke trying to pay for desperately needed care out of pocket. The new provisions in the relief bill give federal regulators a powerful set of tools to finally hold health plans accountable. I want to thank Rep. Joe Kennedy for his leadership in championing this issue.
“Despite positive components of the bill, in the new year, Congress must do more to acknowledge the long-term mental health and addiction effects of the pandemic. The road to recovery does not end with a vaccine. This is a chance for leaders from both sides of the aisle to set a new precedent in this country: there is no health without mental health.”
About The Kennedy Forum
Founded in 2013 by former Congressman Patrick J. Kennedy (D-R.I.), The Kennedy Forum leads a national dialogue on transforming the health care system by uniting mental health advocates, business leaders, and government agencies around a common set of principles, including full implementation of the Federal Parity Law. Launched in celebration of the 50th anniversary of President Kennedy’s signing of the landmark Community Mental Health Act, the nonprofit aims to achieve health equity by advancing evidence-based practices, policies, and programming for the treatment of mental health and addiction. The Kennedy Forum’s “Don’t Deny Me” campaign educates consumers about their rights under the Federal Parity Law and connects them with essential appeals guidance and resources. To learn more about The Kennedy Forum and donate, please visit www.thekennedyforum.org.