Hillary Clinton is rolling out a comprehensive plan to address millions of Americans coping with mental illness, pointing to the need to fully integrate mental health services into the nation's health-care system.
Mrs. Clinton's campaign released a multi-pronged approach to mental health care on Monday, aimed at ensuring that Americans would no longer separate mental health from physical health in terms of access, care and quality of treatment.
The Democratic presidential nominee's agenda would focus on early diagnosis and intervention and create a national initiative for suicide prevention. If elected, Clinton would hold a White House conference on mental health within her first year in office.
Clinton's proposal would also aim to enforce mental health parity laws and provide training to law enforcement officers to deal with people grappling with mental health problems while prioritizing treatment over jail for low-level offenders.
"Building on her longstanding commitment to health care for all, Hillary believes everyone should be able to access quality mental health care — without shame, stigma or barriers," said Maya Harris, a senior policy adviser to Clinton's campaign, in a statement.
The former secretary of state planned to hold a town hall meeting by telephone with stakeholders on Monday during a three-day fundraising spree in the Hamptons. The policy rollout would overlap with a Clinton plan to address drug and alcohol addiction which she campaigned on in Iowa and New Hampshire after hearing frequently about the problems from voters.
The federal government estimated in 2014 that about 43.6 million adults in the U.S. had mental illness in the past year, or about 1 in 5 adults age 18 and over. It estimated nearly 10 million adults suffered from serious mental illness.
An estimated 17 million children in the U.S. experience mental health problems, including 1 in 5 college students, according to the National Alliance on Mental Illness. Nearly 1 in 5 veterans returning from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan experienced post-traumatic stress or depression.
Clinton's campaign said the plan would attempt to integrate the nation's health care system to create a more seamless way of providing both medical and mental health treatment to patients.
It would expand the reimbursement systems for collaborative care models under Medicare and Medicaid that aim to treat patients through a team of health care professionals, including a primary care doctor, a care manager and a behavioral health specialist.
It would also be helped by a Clinton proposal to boost funding for community health centers that she announced earlier in the summer along with Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, her primary rival.
Money for the centers, a priority for Sanders, was increased under the Affordable Care Act. Clinton's plan would make the money for the centers permanent and expand it by $40 billion over the next decade.
Historically, health insurers have not treated mental and physical health the same way. Insurers routinely capped psychiatric benefits — by limiting inpatient hospital days or therapy sessions, or putting dollar caps on mental health benefits.
Congress over the years has tried to rectify this problem by establishing mental health “parity,” and when those efforts succeeded, they usually had bipartisan support. The original mental health parity legislation, for example, was sponsored by former Sen. Pete Domenici (R-N.M.) and the late Sen. Paul Wellstone (D-Minn.). But parity has always been a tougher sell with Republicans, because it means dictating what insurers can cover.
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