Former U.S. Rep. Patrick Kennedy, a leading advocate for mental health and addiction treatment, joined providers, families that have struggled with drug abuse, and state officials Wednesday in Philadelphia for the first of six hearings around Pennsylvania on barriers to care.
Kennedy, a Democrat from Rhode Island who has been public about his struggles with substance abuse, including prescription drugs, urged creating a registry for consumers to lodge complaints about problems accessing treatment, including insurance company denials, lack of availability or long waits for care, and other issues discussed at Wednesday's session.
"I'm outraged because these illnesses can be treated," said Kennedy.
Kennedy, the youngest child of the late Sen. Edward M. Kennedy of Massachusetts, was the lead sponsor of the Mental Health Parity and Addiction Equity Act of 2008, a federal law that requires health insurance companies to treat mental health and substance abuse treatment similarly to other medical issues.
Problems brought up Wednesday suggest compliance with that law still has a way to go.
"We need to be prepared to help each individual when they are ready," said Carol Rostucher, a Philadelphia woman whose son is in recovery. She founded Angels in Motion to help others.
Rostucher and others talked about people who want treatment but are turned away because of too few beds, insurance, and other issues, including inadequately trained personnel. Both public and private insurance plans have presented problems, speakers said.
William Folks, chairman of the Rehabilitation and Community Providers Association and an official of Eagleville Hospital, said funding for substance abuse is a national problem "at the heart" of the current crisis. Pennsylvania, like many states, is in the throes of an opioid abuse epidemic, caused both by prescription painkillers and heroin.
Diana Rosati, executive director of the Bucks County Drug and Alcohol Commission, said treatment capacity needs to be increased.
"Nothing is more frustrating for an individual seeking treatment than to be told that they qualify for treatment, they agree to enter treatment, and there is not an available bed placement," Rosati said.
Michael Harle, president of Gaudenzia Inc., a large nonprofit treatment program, called for expanding detox and long-term residential services, and holding insurance companies accountable for legal requirements.
Wednesday's hearing was part of the work of a task force appointed by the state Department of Drug and Alcohol Programs at the direction of legislators.
The chief sponsor of the bipartisan resolution passed in May creating the effort was State Rep. Stephen Kinsey (D., Phila.). Kinsey, who came to Wednesday's hearing, said one of the group's jobs is to propose legislation to help improve Pennsylvania's treatment system.