By: Alicia Ault, Clinical Psychiatry News Digital Network

Former congressman Patrick Kennedy has started a new organization that aims to bring mental health advocates together.

Mr. Kennedy, who represented Rhode Island in the House of Representatives from 1995 to 2011, was a coauthor of the 2008 Mental Health Parity and Addiction Equity Act (MHPAEA). The act requires that companies with more that 50 employees provide group health insurance that includes mental health/substance abuse benefits equivalent to medical/surgical benefits at no additional charge. Mr. Kennedy also has spoken at length about his personal struggles with bipolar disorder and addiction.

In debuting the Kennedy Forum – and an inaugural conference in Boston in October – Mr. Kennedy said in a statement, “We need a national conversation on mental health that will allow us to finally remove the stigma surrounding mental illness and to once-and-for-all achieve parity by treating the brain the same way we treat the rest of the body. I look forward to bringing together the brightest minds and boldest voices in the mental health, substance use, and intellectual disability community for this annual event.”

Mr. Kennedy also noted that the final rules implementing the 2008 law are due this fall. Interim final rules were released in January 2010 and have been applied to health coverage that began July 1 of that year. A few months later, several behavioral health companies – Magellan Health Services, Beacon Health Strategies, and ValueOptions – filed suit to delay implementation of the final rule, seeking further clarity on how the 2008 law would mesh with the Affordable Care Act.

Last March, the Obama administration gave a little bit more insight into how those laws might interact when it spelled out the ACA’s essential health benefits. The final rule for that aspect of the act emphasized that health insurers must cover mental health and substance abuse services starting in 2014. The essential health benefit rule also broadened the parity requirement for mental health coverage, first established under the MHPAEA.

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