Sunday Scaries

Super Tuesday: What each leading Dem says about mental health

Compare and contrast the mental health plans of the leading Democratic candidates.

As Super Tuesday draws near, presidential hopefuls will continue to debate a number of issues: climate change, the economy, health care. Buried within the topic of health care is the subject of *mental health* care — how people can afford it, what to prioritize, and how it can be supported long before a crisis.

Here’s where each of the leading Democratic candidates stand on mental health. They may not be your candidate, but they definitely have thoughts on the degree of care they think should be provided to you.

Bernie Sanders

When it comes to mental health, Senator Sanders puts it plainly: “Mental health care is health care.”

Sanders primarily wants to improve the nation’s state of mental health through his Medicare for All plan, a single-payer, national health insurance program that a recent Yale study claims would lower American health care costs by an annual $450 billion. In turn, Medicare coverage would be expanded to include mental health and substance abuse treatment. He claims that, under this plan, mental health services can be free at the time of service, with no co-payments, and cap what Americans pay for prescription drugs at no more than $200 a year.

Sanders also wants to expand the National Health Service Corps and Teaching Health Centers to recruit and train mental health providers, reports the nonpartisan mental health care initiative, Mental Health for US.

Joe Biden

Vice President Joe Biden argues that the best way to take care of American’s mental health is by protecting the Affordable Care Act. The ACA was designed so that people wouldn’t have to worry that their insurance coverage would deny coverage or charge more if they have a pre-existing condition, like a mental health challenge. As president, Biden claims he will achieve “mental health parity” and expand access to mental health care.

Biden does have a historical interest in bettering mental health. In 2013, he was part of a $100 million plan to expand mental health services to community health centers and mental health facilities in rural regions. But experts debate over whether or not the ACA really achieves mental health parity or not. While economists estimate the ACA extended mental health benefits to 62 million people, private insurance providers can still decide that a mental health service doesn’t fall under a “medical necessity.”

Elizabeth Warren

Warren supports providing Medicare for All over sticking with the ACA. Like a Sanders presidency, a Warren presidency would mean that coverage would be expanded to mental health treatment. She also has a backup plan (she has many plans) in case the Democrats don’t get the Senate seats they need to actually pass Medicare for All, which involves utilizing regulatory authority to scoot pass Congress.

In May 2019, Warren also co-introduced the Behavioral Health Coverage Transparency Act, which aims to ensure that the coverage for mental health care is equivalent to the coverage that insurers provide for physical health -- something the ACA was designed to achieve but in reality doesn’t often happen. The act would also require insurance companies to be transparent about how and why they make their parity decisions.

Warren also has a history of advocating for mental health programs and grants, documented by Mental Health for US.

Mike Bloomberg

Bloomberg also wants to “build” on the ACA while creating a “Medicare-like public option” for health care. He is interested in expanding mental health coverage but has not specifically explained what this would involve.

Bloomberg is quoted saying he’d like to “bring back care to rural communities,” which includes increasing federal funding for rural hospitals, in turn expanding mental health and substance abuse aid. His campaign site also states that he wants to promote school-based mental health programs aimed at LGBTQ+ youth.

Pete Buttigieg

Buttigieg’s health plan is called the “Medicare for All Who Want It” plan, which gives Americans the option of either opting into a government health plan or sticking with employer-sponsored and individual private insurance.

Apart from that, Buttigieg has a more specific plan to “improve mental health and combat addiction.” This can be broken down into 14 general goals, which include launching a national campaign to “end social isolation and loneliness,” requiring all schools to teach Mental Health First Aid courses, and penalizing insurance companies that do comply with mental health coverage parity.

Amy Klobuchar

As part of her campaign, Klobuchar introduced a plan to spend $100 billion over the first decade of her presidency on improving mental health care and fighting substance abuse.

This plan includes, but is not limited to, expanding funding to states’ mental health programming, launching a nationwide suicide prevention and mental health awareness campaign, and protecting the mental health care ensured by the ACA. Klobuchar has also said she’s interested in making a “dramatic federal investment” in National Institutes of Health funding, specifically when it comes to research on behavioral health issues and substance abuse.

Tom Steyer

Like Buttigieg, Steyer envisions a United States where people can either go the private or public route with their health care. And like Klobuchar, Steyer wants to invest $100 billion over the next decade into mental health care. Steyer also wants to require insurance companies to pay up like the ACA says they have to, as well as increasing access to telemedicine.

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