Monday, October 24, 2016

The Fierce Urgency of Yesterday: Mental Health Parity - Patrick Kennedy, Former U.S. Congressman

Patrick Kennedy,  Newt Gingrich and Van Jones spoke today at AEI on the Mental Health Parity Act on the need to create a paradigm shift in thinking of addiction issues as mental health brain injury issues- which have to be paid for treating just like any other chronic illness. Illnesses of the brain are no different than any other bodily injury.  They are biomedical in nature and deserve non judgmental treatment options. Addictions can be treated medically.  There are drugs that can wean people off addictive drugs. They argued for a 13 step process- all the12 step spiritual work isn't to be discounted but for some it isn't enough-they need the 13th step of medical correction to reconfigure the neuroplastic brain from the injury.

We wait till there is a crisis before you trigger insurance reimbursement mechanisms typically but the law now says you have to have treatment paid for by the insurance companies before crisis- at the stage where it is manifesting at all. You don't wait until someone needs their legs amputated before treating diabetes, you should not have to wait to get reimbursement for brain injury addictions before someone ODs or is getting the drug to bring them back from a near death overdose experience.

    The cost of not treating mental illness is so high to society in terms of jails, ERs, and homeless care which should be better allocated to getting the care that people need before jail, the ER or they are on the street. This is a seriously huge issue that affects Veterans particularly as they struggle witih all the PTSD related mental health challenges of addictions, suicides, homelessness, joblessness, etc. We would be spending much more wisely on treatment before crisis hits.  It would cost society much less.

     The strangest bedfellows today at AEI- the American Enterprise Institute, Gingrich, Jones and Kennedy all agreed that you should not look at health care of the body with the brain siloed. Gingrich particularly noted that we didn't know enough about how the brain worked until relatively recently because you could not study a live brain without current technologies- medicine only studied from dead people's brains. Now we know so much more and there are drug treatments that can get people off addictive drugs that should be covered better than the old standard two week rehab stint.

    The debate over whether addiction is a moral character flaw as opposed to a pure biochemical event is one that will continue, argued Kennedy. People will continue to look at someone as a character failure if they keep ODing time and time again.   But we need to enforce laws that now are on the books in which it is clear that brain injuries attendant to addictions have to be given the same insurance coverage as any bodily disease or injury.

    This event was a model in cordiality where both sides of a contentious political divide are trying to come together to create solutions that will help people where they live because they are dying at such a rate that Patrick Kennedy was passionately arguing about people's need to get off the dime and do something about this.  Its the No. 1 political issue in New Hampshire because people are dying at a catastrophic rate.   Hats off to all of them. What are the next steps and how can we all help?   I guarantee that if you are reading this you know someone who knows someone whose life has been dramatically affected by someone they love with an addiction.

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