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Statement by John Kerry on Mental Health Policy

Location: Unknown

September  12,  2003

Recent breakthroughs in science have taught us so much about how genetic, social and environmental factors come together to cause mental illnesses. In addition, we have developed new effective drugs and better community health services.  We have learned mental illness is treatable, often more treatable than common physical illnesses.

Despite these many advances, mental illness continues to be treated differently from physical illness.  Too few people still seek treatment for mental illness—fearing the shame and stigma attached to these disorders. 

I believe we must make progress on mental illness and end this discrimination and stigma for once and for all. As President, here's where I would start.

First, we have to make sure we require full mental health parity once and for all. Not just mental health parity for certain benefits or certain mental health conditions or with unnecessary loopholes that allow insurers to skirt their responsibility. We also need parity in our public programs. That's why I have fought for mental health parity in the Medicare program -
closing differences in cost-sharing for mental health benefits.

Second, let's strengthen the Medicaid program.  States are starving under the Bush economic policies and are forced to cut back on Medicaid as well as community mental health services.  I will protect the Medicaid program. That means stopping the Bush so called "reform," which would essentially block grant the Medicaid program and threaten benefits and coverage.  I have also proposed $25 billion a year in state relief for the next two years that would help protect the program.

Third, we not only need to strengthen Medicare and Medicaid we need to reform them. It makes no sense that the Medicaid program prevents people from working and receiving health care at the same time.  We made some progress with the Jeffords-Kennedy legislation enabling people to receive Medicaid and work but it is three years later and we still have not passed the Family Opportunity Act. We need to pass it right away. And even that legislation does not fix all of the skewed incentives. Why does the Medicaid program often cover institutional care and not community-based care? That makes no sense.

I've worked to ensure that people with mental illness who are on the welfare rolls receive the services they need to get and stay employed. And I will continue to work to ensure that people receiving SSI can keep their benefits and return to work.
We want people to be able to live in our communities and work - this is part of the American dream.  But that means we have a lot of work to do to fix our government programs once and for all so that people with mental illnesses can live achieve the dream.

Also, we must continue to reduce the stigma associated with mental health and raise awareness about mental illnesses. We have made great strides on this - with the help of leaders like Tipper Gore, Surgeon General David Satcher, Paul Wellstone and Pete Domenici and community leaders around the country.  But we have more work to do.  It's a tragedy that many people don't seek treatment for mental illnesses either because they are afraid to or don't know that they should seek treatment.  We need to continue spreading the word to encourage people to seek treatment. 

I support additional funding for community-based care to create and expand and much-needed community-based programs to reach the most vulnerable populations among those with mental illnesses: children, minorities, and women. I have also pledged to fully fund IDEA - so that the Federal government meets its full obligation and our children get the services they need. I also want to better coordinate services for people with mental illness as they often have many other challenges such as housing, special education, job training, and a range of other needs.

We need to make mental health care a critical part of our response to terrorism. This week as we remember those who died on September 11th, we must also think about the millions of victims who were impacted by the terrorist attacks.  There has been an increase in cases of people with anxiety, Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and other mental health problems. We need to make sure that when we consider our Homeland Security priorities mental health support is included.

Finally, we need a legal system that is committed to moving forward on civil rights - not turning the clock backwards, like President Bush wants to do. We cannot afford to lose a single person and that means we need judges and lawmakers who are committed to strengthening key civil rights laws protections, like the Americans with Disabilities Act and privacy protections.
I will always have an open door and an open mind on how we can move forward to help people with mental illnesses. I will work until the day that no one with mental illness is ashamed to seek treatment, until the day when we recognize the stress impacts of the world we live in, until the day when people with mental illnesses are not discriminated against, until the day when people with mental illnesses get the support they need to fully participate in the workforce and in our society.

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