Patrick J. Kennedy
During his 16 years in the U.S. House of Representatives, serving Rhode Island’s First Congressional District, Patrick J. Kennedy fought to end discrimination against those with mental illness, addiction, and other brain diseases. He is best known as the lead sponsor of the landmark Mental Health Parity and Addiction Equity Act (Federal Parity Law), which was passed with bi-partisan support and signed into law by President George W. Bush on October 3, 2008. The Federal Parity Law provides millions of Americans, previously denied care, with access to mental health and addiction treatment by requiring insurance companies to cover treatment for mental health and substance use disorders no more restrictively than treatment for illnesses of the body, such as diabetes and cancer.
In addition to the Federal Parity Law, Kennedy authored and co-sponsored dozens of bills during his time in Congress to increase the understanding and treatment of neurological and psychiatric disorders, including the Positive Aging Act; Foundations for Learning Act; National Neurotechnology Initiative Act; Genomics and Personalized Medicine Act; COMBAT PTSD Act; Nurse-Family Partnership Act; Alzheimer’s Treatment and Caregiver Support Act; and Ready, Willing, and Able Act, which called on the Department of Homeland Security to deploy a civilian response system to blunt the psychological impact of terrorism. He served on various committees and subcommittees, including the House Appropriations Committee; the Subcommittee on Health, Education and Welfare; the Subcommittee on Labor, Health and Human Services, and Education; and the Subcommittee on Veterans Affairs.
In 2013, he founded The Kennedy Forum, a non-profit organization whose mission is to lead a national dialogue on transforming mental health and addiction care delivery by uniting mental health advocates, business leaders, and government agencies around a common set of principles, including full implementation of the Federal Parity Law. The Forum aims to achieve health equity by advancing evidence-based practices, policies, political will, and programming in mental health and addiction treatment.
In 2015, Kennedy co-authored the New York Times bestseller “A Common Struggle” in which he shares both his personal narrative and his experience shepherding the Federal Parity Law. The book ends with Kennedy’s detailed roadmap to achieve health equity in the United States.
In 2017, Kennedy served on the President’s Commission on Combating Drug Addiction and the Opioid Crisis. His personal contributions to the final report focused on the declaration of a federal emergency and strong parity-based recommendations.
Patrick J. Kennedy is also the founder of DontDenyMe.org, an educational campaign that empowers consumers and providers to understand parity rights and connects them to essential appeals guidance and resources; co-founder of One Mind, an organization that pushes for greater global investment in brain research; co-founder of Psych Hub, the most comprehensive online learning platform on mental health, substance use, and suicide prevention topics in the world; co-chair of Mental Health for US, a nonpartisan initiative designed to elevate mental health and addiction in policy conversations during the 2020 election cycle; and co-chair of the Action Alliance’s National Response to COVID-19, which brings together public and private sectors to lead a coordinated mental health and suicide prevention response.
Amid countless recognitions, meaningful partnerships, and political affiliations, Kennedy’s most important achievement continues to be leveraging his family legacy in the arenas of civil rights, mental health, and intellectual disabilities to advance the cause of social justice and health equity for all people. He lives in New Jersey with his wife, Amy, and their children.
“The real way to change attitudes is to change practices. Right now, we often wait until someone has a crisis before starting treatment for mental illness or addiction. But we don’t treat diabetes or cardiovascular disease that way.”