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Former Congressman Advocates For Mental Health Parity At Spokane Forum

The Kennedy Forum

Former Rhode Island Congressman Patrick Kennedy has left public office but he continues to advocate for the mental health parity law he sponsored 10 years ago..

Kennedy was in Spokane Wednesday night to speak at a community forum on mental health.

Patrick Kennedy is the youngest son of the late Senator Ted Kennedy. He’s had his own issues with addiction and mental illness. But he has overcome those and now he’s an advocate who travels the country to push for mental health reforms.

He sponsored the 2008 law that requires insurers to provide coverage for mental health and addiction in the same way they cover physical illnesses.

“So that if diabetes is covered with all the testing strips and primary care and chronic disease management, then guess what: depression and anxiety needs to be treated the same. Same with addiction,” Kennedy said.

Kennedy works to get states to enforce his mental health parity law. He says Washington is one of the worst states in the nation for that. He encouraged the attorney general to follow the lead of his New York counterpart and take action against insurance companies that don’t follow the law.

He’s also working to develop support for more federal money to be spent to battle the troubling trends of suicide and opioid abuse. He compares them to the AIDS public health crisis in the 1980s. Back then, he said, the government allocated billions for treatment and research of the new disease, in part because supporters of AIDS patients were vocal.

“Unfortunately, with addiction and the suicide crisis, families are reticent to come forward. They feel the shame and stigma of these illnesses. They feel depressed. They’re beaten down. The last thing they want to do is advocate," Kennedy said. "But, like other public health issues and other issues in general, we need advocacy. Nothing happens without advocacy.”

Kennedy says Americans need to move on from the belief that people with drug addictions and mental health issues are weak and undeserving of help. Instead, they should be viewed as people with physical issues that can be addressed.