As Prepared For Delivery:
Thank you to the Kennedy Forum and to Patrick Kennedy for inviting me to speak here today. It is so great to be here with you in my hometown!
Patrick, thank you for being a leading voice on the issues of mental health and addiction.
Before I worked in the Biden Administration, I was President of the Center for American Progress, a think tank in Washington. And there I was proud to host Patrick to discuss mental health care in America over a decade ago.
It was so great to see you and Amy at our mental health event at the White House in July where we highlighted issues Patrick has been tirelessly championing. Your ongoing commitment to this issue remains an inspiration and has made so many lives immeasurably better.
I’m honored to be here at the Kennedy Forum particularly because, 60 years ago this month, President John F. Kennedy signed the Community Mental Health Act into law.
This paved the way for a massive transformation in how we address mental illness.
It led to significant new investments in community mental health across the U.S.
President Biden has built on that work with his comprehensive agenda to address mental health in America.
The President believes mental health care is health care, period.
It’s essential to people’s wellbeing and their ability to lead a full and productive life.
To find joy. To find purpose. To take care of themselves and their loved ones.
That’s why the Biden-Harris Administration is so focused on tackling the mental health crisis in America.
President Biden and his Administration are committed to improve our mental health system’s capacity. This means making investments in infrastructure, workforce, prevention, treatment, and recovery.
To enable this transformation, our comprehensive mental health agenda has three core components: Care, Coverage, and Causes.
First, we need more care for mental health.
Severe shortages in the behavioral health workforce make it difficult for people to find help.
That’s why this Administration has invested over $1 billion into strengthening and expanding the 9-8-8 suicide and crisis lifeline.
9-8-8 has answered more than 5 million contacts since its launch.
Today, after recent updates this Administration has taken, we now have specialized 9-8-8 services for Spanish speakers, LGBTQI+ people, veterans, and deaf and hard-of-hearing people.
We’re also investing in community mental health centers across the U.S.
These facilities provide 24/7 care to anybody who needs it—regardless of their ability to pay.
There are now 500 certified community behavioral health centers in 46 states.
That’s thanks to President Kennedy, whose legislation established and invested in community mental health centers across the U.S. It’s also thanks to mental health champions like you all.
During this Administration, we’ve built on that legacy—adding more than 140 centers. And we’re just getting started.
In September, the Department of Health and Human Services awarded nearly $130 million to expand community behavioral health clinics—including three here in Massachusetts, in Fitchburg, Jamaica Plain, and Springfield.
Another crucial element to care is mental health support outside of traditional hospital or clinic settings.
We invested $15 million from the American Rescue Plan to help states build mobile mental health crisis teams that deliver care outside of a clinic or hospital.
And, over the next five years, the Department of Education will invest $1 billion from the Bipartisan Safer Communities Act to help schools hire and train new school-based mental health providers.
The $280 million we’ve invested so far is projected to create 14,000 such roles, including school psychologists, counselors, and social workers.
Next, let me turn to the second “C”: coverage.
Fifteen years ago today, the Mental Health Parity and Addiction Equity Act became law.
This legislation called for health insurance companies to cover mental health and substance use care at the same levels as physical health care.
Because just like when you break a bone, when you have a mental health crisis, you should be able to get professional medical help.
The Obama-Biden Administration worked hard to put this law into effect. As a result, there is greater parity today than in the past, like establishing lower co-pays and removing arbitrary limits on therapy visits.
But it’s not nearly enough.
As everyone here knows, actually getting needed mental health care remains a huge challenge for Americans.
People with insurance are twice as likely to have to go out-of-network for mental health care compared to physical healthcare. And that gap has only widened.
Even people with insurance are paying $14 billion a year for mental health services.
Insurers make it difficult to access mental health coverage in-network.
Consumers are often forced to seek care out-of-network at significantly higher costs and pay out of pocket, or defer care altogether.
One family in Michigan has to spend $12,500 each month to treat their son’s depression, anxiety, and mood disorders.
It shouldn’t be this way. No one should have to drain their savings or go into debt to get help for themselves or their loved ones.
That’s why the Biden-Harris Administration recently announced new steps to expand access to mental health care in America.
Our actions would require health insurance plans to identify the gaps in the mental health care that they provide.
Under our rule, they’d need to make sure that they’re not creating more paperwork for enrollees to see their mental health care provider than to see their physical therapist. They’ll need to ensure that it’s as easy for a psychologist to join their network as a cardiologist.
And if they’re not doing this, our rule would require them to fix it to make sure mental health care is being treated on par with physical health care.
This brings me to the last “C”: causes.
We must address the root issues that lead to mental health problems in the first place, like gun violence, community violence, and poverty.
And, as Dr. Vivek Murthy, the U.S. Surgeon General, has warned, we must do more to protect our kids from the harms of social media.
The President has called for bipartisan legislation to ban targeted advertising online for children and young people, and to enact strong protections for their data privacy, health, and safety online.
We are also doing more to invest in prevention programs, expand training in mental health first aid, and support peer-based programs.
We have more work to do. But nobody is more committed to fixing the problems in our mental health system than Joe Biden.
Sixty years after President Kennedy took crucial steps to transform how America treats mental illness, President Biden remains committed to finishing the job.
President Biden recognizes that mental health is health.
Mental health care is health care.
And access to health care is a right, not a privilege.