The Kennedy Forum
October 23, 2013
As Prepared for Delivery
Thank you, Patrick. We would not have a Mental Health Parity & Addiction Equity Law or an Affordable Care Act without your leadership and perseverance.
And we could not be where we are today, without your father's conviction, imagination, and leadership in fighting for a dream that never died. As he put it "the state of a family's health should never depend on the size of a family's wealth."
I also want to thank the Kennedy Forum, and all of you who have answered President Obama's call to bring the conversation about mental health into your own communities.
President Kennedy believed that improving care for individuals living with mental illness and intellectual disabilities, was one of our nation's most critical challenges. And he believed we needed to take a new approach to mental health care:
- Refocusing on active, high-quality treatment;
- Shifting the orientation of care from institutions to community-based settings; and
- Integrating more people living with mental illness and intellectual disabilities into the mainstream of American life.
A half century later, President Obama and Vice President Biden have put a new national focus on prevention, treatment, and support for Americans in recovery.
In the last six months, I've had two family members experience crises. Both of them eventually were able to receive help and support because they had resources and friends and family to turn to. But it was not easy, in either case. And the hand-off from crisis stabilization to community support was rocky, to say the least.
The "coordination" wasn't really "coordinated." And I run the Department of Health and Human Services. I know what assistance is out there. And I have an amazing array of caring experts to give advice.
Beyond the personal toll for families and individuals, we have much work to do as a country, to help people to achieve the promise of recovery:
- Nine in 10 Americans with substance use disorders do not receive care.
- 60% of Americans living with a mental health condition do not receive care.
- And year after year, we lose more than twice as many Americans to suicide as we do to homicide.
These are our moms and dads. They're our sisters, our brothers, our kids and grandkids.
To save more lives, we're a part of the National Suicide Prevention Strategy that was launched by the National Action Alliance.
We're also taking steps to meet the demand for mental health and substance abuse treatment services for veterans, service members and their families. These efforts are led by an amazing team of First Lady Michelle Obama, and her great partner, Dr. Jill Biden.
At HHS, we've joined with foundations, health providers, faith leaders, school leaders and advocates to work on an unprecedented national effort on bullying prevention: encouraging Americans to "stop bullying on the spot" and to give all our kids a safe space to grow up healthy.
Today, we're announcing $57 million in new Safe Schools/Healthy Students grants, to further our efforts to give our kids a healthy start.
The President has also proposed a new $130 million initiative to create job opportunities, support "Mental Health First Aid," and get help for students who show signs of mental illness.
At the end of the day, our success depends on our ability to move hearts and minds.
Just think for a second of how different things would be if everyone felt like they could access treatment without the fear of being judged. Imagine what it would mean if people felt as comfortable saying they were going for counseling as they are for a flu shot or physical therapy.
Ultimately, our efforts are for naught, if people aren't able to access the services they need.
The Parity Rule and the Affordable Care Act will expand and protect behavioral health benefits for 62 million Americans – the largest expansion of behavioral health coverage in a generation.
We are still on track to get the final parity rule done by the end of the year – even after the shutdown slowed things down. The rule entered its final stage of review on Monday.
The Affordable Care Act is expanding access to a number of mental health preventive services, including screenings for alcohol abuse and depression, and behavioral assessments for children – all without copays or other out-of-pocket fees.
In addition, the new law prevents insurance companies from denying coverage based on pre-existing conditions like bipolar disorder and depression.
And it allows young people to stay on their parents' plan until age 26. With three quarters of mental illness occurring by age 24, this is a critically important time in a young person's life to have coverage.
The new law also builds upon the progress we're making with "Money Follows the Person" incentives, to give more Americans living with intellectual disabilities the flexibility to choose a less restrictive, home or community-based setting.
For the 15% of Americans who do not have insurance, and those who purchase coverage on their own, the Marketplace is an opportunity to obtain coverage which, by law, must include mental health and substance abuse services.
As the President said Monday, the new law is more than a website. It's an opportunity for millions of Americans to obtain preventive services, treatment, and care for both mental health and physical health. And no one will ever again be denied coverage based on a pre-existing health condition – mental or physical.
The new law is working to lower prices and increase competition. Six in ten Americans who do not have insurance can obtain coverage for $100 a month or less.
While there is no excuse for the problems we've been having with HealthCare.gov, these problems are getting fixed. People are learning about their new choices and enrolling, and in many cases they're saving a lot of money.
There are several ways folks can enroll, including our call centers, which are staffed 24/7 in 150 languages.
We're also partnering with nearly 40 behavioral health organizations who are educating and enrolling their constituents in person.
A half century after President Kennedy called for a "wholly new national approach," we find ourselves once again at the crossroads of history.
We have a very real opportunity to improve – and in some cases save - the lives of millions of our friends, neighbors and family members.
You have partners and allies in this Administration who are mobilizing assets and resources.
We need an "all-hands-on-deck" approach. We need your partnership. We need the Kennedy Forum.
Thank you all very much.