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Buttigieg unveils plan to improve mental health care and fight addiction

Buttigieg unveils mental health policy

Ahead of a campaign trip to New Hampshire, South Bend Mayor Pete Buttigieg released a plan to expand mental health care services and fight addiction, with the goal of preventing 1 million deaths over the next nine years.

The plan would strengthen enforcement of "parity" requirements between mental health care and other services and substantially reduce the number of people incarcerated due to mental illness and addiction.

The policy aims to prevent 1 million "deaths of despair" by 2028, including deaths due to drugs, alcohol and suicide. The plan would also ensure that at least 75% of people who need mental health care and addiction treatment get the care they need by the end of Buttigieg's first term in office. 

To enforce parity rules for mental health and addiction treatment, insurance companies that do not provide the same level of care and treatment as they do for traditional services would face stiffer penalties under Buttigieg's plan. The proposal also calls for health care plans to provide a free mental health check-up for patients who request one. Buttigieg also outlines an expansion in the workforce to manage mental health and addiction care through training programs for clinicians and investment to aid peer support specialists.

"For years, politicians in Washington have claimed to prioritize mental health care while slashing funding for treatment and ignoring America's growing addiction and mental health crisis," Buttigieg said in a statement. "That neglect must end. Our plan breaks down the barriers around mental health and builds up a sense of belonging that will help millions of suffering Americans heal."

The Buttigieg campaign unveiled the plan before the candidate kicks off a three-day campaign trip through New Hampshire, which is one of the top five states with the "highest rate of opioid-involved deaths," according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse. A report by the New Hampshire attorney general's office found 166 people have died from opioid overdoses so far this year. In his plan, Buttigieg would expand a program to provide the overdose-reversing drug naloxone to all 50 states by 2024. 

Buttigieg's policy also highlighted the racial disparity in how the crisis of deaths due to drugs, alcohol and suicide has been portrayed as "unique to middle-aged white America."

"While mental illness and addiction rates have risen significantly for this demographic, this often ignores the reality that mental illness and addiction have historically been and continue to be high, or are also rising, among people of color and other marginalized people and age groups," the policy states.

The plan also directly contrasts with President Trump's stated desire to build more mental institutions in the aftermath of mass shootings in Ohio and Texas. "Years ago, many cities and states I remember so well closed mental institutions for budgetary reasons," Mr. Trump said at a rally in New Hampshire last week. "We're going to have to give major consideration to building new facilities to those in need, we have to do it."

Buttigieg would decriminalize mental illness and addiction "through diversion, treatment and re-entry programs," with the goal of reducing the number of people incarcerated because of mental illness by 75 percent.

His plan calls for investments to expand diversionary programs for people with a history of mental illness or substance abuse and for training programs for drug and mental health courts. Regarding the expansion of diversionary programs, Buttigieg's policy indicates that the diversionary programs wouldn't be an alternative to the legal system, but would provide care before a potential conviction. The investment in drug courts and mental health courts emphasizes Buttigieg's priority to focus on community-based treatment instead of "reflexive punishment."

Buttigieg also proposed a 10-year, $100 billion grant program to local communities to improve mental health and addiction prevention as they see fit.

Other Democratic candidates have released their own proposals in recent months. In May, Minnesota Senator Amy Klobuchar released a plan that also focused on enforcing parity in the health care system and increasing training for health care professionals.

Senator Kirsten Gillibrand's proposal focuses on addressing mental health issues through community-based measures and by requiring insurance companies to cover mental and behavioral health.

In May, Senator Elizabeth Warren released a plan to tackle the opioid crisis by targeting pharmaceutical companies for their role in the opioid crisis.

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