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Professional News
DB Honors Kennedy for Crusade to Improve Care
Psychiatric News
Volume 36 Number 11 page 9-9
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Senator Edward Kennedy (D-Mass.) greets MPS President-elect David Osser, M.D. To Osser’s right is MPS member Lawrence Hartmann, M.D. In the background are MPS President Frederick Stoddard, M.D., and his wife, Matilda.

MPS President Frederick Stoddard, M.D., who presented the award, said in an MPS press release, "We commend Senator Kennedy’s extraordinary efforts, which have resulted in laws that protect psychiatric patients and physicians. We also applaud his continuous quest to seek universal health care coverage."

MPS established the Distinguished Leadership Award this year to recognize outstanding legislative service on behalf of individuals with mental illnesses.

Stoddard also commended Kennedy’s "lifetime achievements and significant contributions to achieve quality care for mentally ill children and adults."

"Since your election to the United States Senate in 1962," he told Kennedy, "you have been not only an eloquent national public policy advocate, but the key legislative leader in the Senate for support of critically needed mental health services, research, and medical education."

Stoddard praised Kennedy for his efforts to reduce the stigma attached to mental illness and educate the public on the link between physical and mental health.

Kennedy, who addressed the MPS annual meeting, said, "Mental health policy has a special meaning for me and the whole Kennedy family."

The senator mentioned that his brother, the late President John F. Kennedy, signed a bill into law in 1963 to create mental retardation facilities and community mental health centers. In a speech to Congress, the late president said, "We must replace the tradition of neglect with forceful and far-reaching programs carried out at all levels of government, by private individuals, and state and local agencies in every part of the Union."

"Today, four decades later, we still struggle to meet the challenge that President Kennedy posed," said Sen. Kennedy. That, he noted, is why he is cosponsoring the 2001 Mental Health Equitable Treatment Act (Psychiatric News, April 6), which provides full parity coverage for all mental illnesses. The bill’s cosponsors are Senators Pete Domenici (R-N.M.) and Paul Wellstone (D-Minn.).

Specifically, the bill prohibits group health plans from imposing discriminatory limits on the number of hospital days or outpatient visits for mental illness care or discriminatory copays, deductibles, or coinsurance amounts, according to the legislation.

"Unless we enact true parity, those who suffer from mental disorders will continue to be denied the basic services they need to lead healthy and productive lives. With the continued help of the Coalition for Fairness in Mental Illness Coverage, which APA has led so diligently, I believe we can finally enact this important legislation and end insurance companies’ discrimination against those with mental illness," said Kennedy.

However, there must be an end to managed care abuses to ensure meaningful mental health parity, emphasized Kennedy.

He has been an advocate for the Bipartisan Patient Protection Act (Psychiatric News, March 16), which he introduced in the Senate in February with John Edwards (D-N.C.) and John McCain (R-Ariz.). The legislation would allow patients to sue health plans in federal court for civil damages up to $5 million for breach of contract if they believe an insurer reneged on services it was legally required to provide.

However, a competing bill has been drafted by Senators John Breaux (D-La.), James Jeffords (R-Vt.), and Bill Frist (R-Tenn.) that caps civil damages against health plans in federal court at $500,000. President George W. Bush supports this version.

At press time, the McCain-Edwards camp vowed to advance their bill in Congress before this month’s recess.

Kennedy also plans to introduce a new mental health bill with Domenici to expand mental health treatment services for children and the elderly. Kennedy’s legislative assistant did not specify when the bill would be introduced.

"Our new mental health bill would establish early identification programs for preschool-aged children and crisis-intervention services for families who are not able to pay for their children’s mental health services," said Kennedy in a press release.

The legislation would include suicide prevention services for the elderly and training for professionals to identify senior citizens who need mental health services. It would also fund local programs to determine which areas of the mental health system need improvement, said Kennedy.

"We must strive to improve our public health system until every American who needs quality mental health services receives them. With the continued efforts of all of you here," he told the Massachusetts psychiatrists, "I think that one day we will get there." ▪

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Senator Edward Kennedy (D-Mass.) greets MPS President-elect David Osser, M.D. To Osser’s right is MPS member Lawrence Hartmann, M.D. In the background are MPS President Frederick Stoddard, M.D., and his wife, Matilda.

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