Kennedy Puts Forth a New Mental Health Bill

US Representative Patrick Kennedy, recently returned from rehab, is co-sponsoring a new mental health bill. Kennedy has used his own struggles with addiction and mental illness to forward the cause before. From his office:

Washington, D.C.- U.S. Representatives Patrick J. Kennedy (D-RI) and Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-FL) today announced the introduction of the “Positive Aging Act of 2009.” The legislation would preserve the dignity and health of all America’s senior citizens by increasing the scope and effectiveness of mental health services for seniors.

The bill’s aim is to improve the accessibility and quality of mental health services for our rapidly growing population of older Americans. The legislation proposes to make mental health services an integral part of primary care services for low-income seniors in community settings.

"As Congress begins consideration of legislation to reform and revitalize our nation’s ‘sick care’ system into a ‘health care’ system, it seems timely to introduce this bill to help our nation's growing senior population.   Ensuring seniors have access to quality, affordable mental health screenings and preventive care is critical to their overall health.  Missed opportunities to diagnose and treat mental diseases continue to take a huge toll on the elderly, increasing the burden on their families and our health care system. Delivering health care to our nation's seniors through an integrated, whole-body, and preventive approach will empower them to preserve their health and independence, and is simply good policy," said Kennedy, who authored last year’s landmark mental health parity legislation which became law at the end of the 110th Congress and marked a major shift in the delivery of mental health services across the nation. The new law ensures health insurers provide mental health benefits on par with medical and surgical benefits.

“The healthcare of our senior citizens is a priority of mine and it should be a priority for this Congress. The medical industry is quickly advancing, yet our medical services are not up to par with these advances. I believe that getting this legislation approved will begin to bridge this gap. When 20% of elderly Americans are experiencing a mental disorder, and over 50 percent of those cases go untreated, we have a serious problem. An even bigger problem is that there are effective treatments for the disorders, but our system does a poor job of integrating these much needed services. We need to act on this now before more elderly Americans across our nation are affected by this deficiency in our system,” said Ros-Lehtinen.

The Positive Aging Act would provide mental health screenings, appropriate referrals for follow-up care and consultations, and the use of available evidence based protocols for common mental health disorders. Additionally, grants for community-based mental health treatment outreach teams will be available to provide services in primary health care facilities where older Americans receive medical treatment.

An estimated 20 percent of older Americans experience a mental disorder, yet almost half of those in need do not receive appropriate treatment.  When left untreated, these mental health problems can have severe physical and psychological consequences for seniors. Men age 85 and older have the highest rates of suicide in our country, and depression is the foremost risk factor.

The “Positive Aging Act of 2009” will provide essential mental health services for older Americans through SAMHSA by amending the Public Health Service Act to:

    * Authorize demonstration projects to support integration of mental health services in primary care settings;

    * Authorize grants for community-based mental health treatment outreach teams;

    * Designate a Deputy Director for Older Adult Mental Health Services in the Center for Mental Health Services;

    * Include representatives of older Americans or their families and geriatric mental health professionals on the Advisory Council for the Center for Mental Health Services;

    * Include targeting substance abuse in older adults in projects of national significance; and

    * Require state plans under Community Mental Health Services Block Grants to include descriptions of the states’ outreach to and services for older individuals.

 In introducing the bill, Kennedy and Ros-Lehtinen pointed out the significant need for more integrated and tailored mental health programs for seniors.  Evidence suggests that at least 70 percent of older adults who die by suicide have visited a primary care professional within 30 days of their death.  Although there are effective treatments to address mental disorders, too many older adults in this country go without the services they need and deserve because of poor integration of physical and mental health care. While advances in health sciences are helping Americans live longer than ever before, mental health challenges accompany this increased longevity.


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