Former US Congressman Patrick J. Kennedy gave the opening address on October 21 at The LCADA Way 40th Anniversary Gala, calling for parity in access to mental health and addiction treatment and compassion for those in recovery.
Kennedy, 54, the son of the late US Senator Edward “Ted” Kennedy, who represented Massachusetts, shared his own journey of recovery at the Embassy Suites in Independence.
He said he never planned to be a lawyer.
âThe last thing I wanted to do,â Kennedy said. âThe last thing is to talk about what was a secret in my family, a secret that we kept buried in our family because we couldn’t afford to say a word about alcoholism and drug addiction in our family, lest political opponents in my family would exploit this, as they often oppose attacking my parents and my family because they are suffering from the disease of alcoholism and drug addiction.
While undergoing treatment during his second term as Rhode Island state legislator in 1990, Kennedy said his roommate sold the story to a tabloid, publicly revealing his battle with drug addiction and fearing that his political career would be over, due to the stigma of mental health and drug addiction. at the time.
Kennedy was the primary sponsor of the Mental Health Parity Act requiring insurers to provide parity coverage between mental health and substance abuse disorders with surgical and medical benefits in terms of financial requirements and treatment limitations.
He first introduced the bill in 1994 as a freshman, 27-year-old congressman, and in a 14-year legislative fight, had the Senate version of the bill enacted (Mental Health Parity and Addiction Act) by President George W. Bush. in 2008 as legislation on amendments to the relief program for workers in difficulty.
He provided an $ 800 billion bailout for financial institutions in the aftermath of the financial crisis with help from his father Ted Kennedy and former Connecticut Senator Chris Dodd.
During his first presentation, Kennedy said he had reflected that no other congressman wanted to put his name in legislation treating mental health and addiction disorders as a disease of the brain.
“So, as the youngest member of Congress, from the country’s smallest state, Rhode Island, and the minority party, I was able to put my John Hancock on this bill, as the original sponsor of this bill. law, âhe said. âBecause no other congressman wanted to do a press conference saying, I’m the sponsor of the bill with the word mental in it, and the words addiction in it.
“Because, of course, all the press would be asking, well, Congressman, because it’s so important to you, can you tell us, have you ever had a mental health issue?” Have you ever suffered from addiction? It’s a rabbit hole that no politician wants to dig, I can assure you.
Electronic medical record systems still don’t effectively document people with addiction to avoid overprescribing opiates, Kennedy said.
Since leaving Congress, he has worked within his organization, the Kennedy Forum, holding insurance companies accountable for complying with parity law and following regulations and compliance in all 50 states. .
âWe lose 100,000 people a year,â Kennedy said. âAnd we know how to do something about it, but we still don’t have the political will to do it.
He also called for a new civil rights movement, recognizing Ohio as the zero point of the overdose crisis and singling out the American Medical Association.
The worst offender is the American Medical Association, âKennedy said. “They’re the ones who continue to promote these units of relative value, where they value everything else in medicine more than chronic behavioral health issues, which, my friends, is killing our fellow Americans more than anything else. “Kennedy said.
âWe are seeing a reduction in the life expectancy of our fellow Americans. I don’t need to tell you in Ohio, you are ground zero for the overdose crisis. I would be angry if I were you, and the way these diseases are treated.
âAnd what we need to do is take a page from our friends in the civil rights movement, because our fight is the same. No more separate and unequal treatment.
When Kennedy was arrested for OVI in 2006 while still in Congress, he publicly announced that he was suffering from an addiction to oxycontin and lost count of the number of his congressional colleagues who made him. show compassion by sharing their own struggles and those of those close to them. , highlighting the impact of behavioral health in this country.