At a discussion session in Washington, D.C., this week, former Congressman Patrick J. Kennedy and former U.S. Surgeon General David Satcher called for Democrats and Republicans to press forward on improvements in behavioral health policy. There is wide bipartisan support to address mental health and addiction issues, so now is the time to maximize progress.
On the day marking his five-year continuous sobriety milestone, Kennedy relayed his own story of addiction and called for a paradigm shift in America that would transform addiction from a behavioral health issue to a public health issue. Part of the solution must be eliminating the stigma, making mental health and addiction treatment more agnostic within the delivery system, he said.
“The common characteristic is the silence in our lives and in our families,” said Kennedy. “There is a lack of national dialog.”
Satcher called for greater integration of behavioral health within the larger system, such as using peers in the community or coordinating care delivery with primary care providers.
“We’re all in this together, but I don’t think we see it that way,” Satcher said. “We must broaden this discussion. It’s not somebody else’s struggle.”
Kennedy said the elephant in the room is often the fiduciary responsibility of insurers to pay for services that provide health improvement and save lives. To improve measures for diabetes, heart disease or any other condition, greater attention must be focused on the behavioral aspects that can influence outcomes. Claims spending must be allocated where it will provide improvement.
“If you spend it on mental health, you’ll see more of a difference than anything else you spend it on,” Kennedy said.
State of the Union
Also this week, the two advocates presented “The State of the Union in Mental Health and Addiction,” hosted by the Kennedy Forum and the Satcher Health Leadership Institute's Kennedy Center for Mental Health Policy and Research.
Kennedy and Satcher outlined their blueprint for “The System We Need,” which puts an emphasis on five key areas:
- Mental health parity enforcement;
- Integration and coordination within the system;
- Brain fitness and resilience;
- Quality and transparency; and
"These are not intractable illnesses without solutions, nor are they moral failings,” Kennedy said. “We know what works and have the game plan. Now we need to rally behind it, demand change, and send a clear message that delay is not an option when it comes to creating the system we need."
The model represents more than two years of foundational work across the healthcare community, including payers and providers to patient advocates and business leaders.
Satcher said he sees great opportunity as well as great challenge.
“We must work at the state and national level to ensure that health equity is a top concern, and access to healthcare for low-income populations is protected and expanded,” he said. “It is essential that we secure solutions directed at filling the gaps that currently exist in the system."
An animated five-minute video, designed for the general public, outlines the specific proposals supporting "The System We Need" in more detail.