With the 2016 elections just around the corner, Hillary Clinton’s and Donald Trump’s health have made their way to center stage, dominating coverage from the Dr. Oz show to NPR. Harder to find, however, have been the candidates’ health plan platforms.
According to the information that Trump has released about his plan, it is focused on controlling healthcare costs, starting with the repeal of the Affordable Care Act.1
Clinton, by comparison, has released several proposals, including ones dealing specifically with mental health and addiction. Together they constitute “the most comprehensive plan ever–by an actual candidate who could be president–to reform mental health addiction care top to bottom.”2
This is according to Patrick Kennedy, a former congressman from Rhode Island who knows first-hand about life with mental illness and addiction. The activist and author has bipolar disorder, a condition characterized by extreme mood swings, and is in recovery for alcohol and opioid addiction. It’s with this breadth of experience that Kennedy writes: “[Clinton’s] plan…will work for the millions already getting mental health and addiction treatment, and the millions more who have avoided it because of discrimination or difficulty in finding caregivers or coverage.”3
“THERE IS NO HEALTH WITHOUT MENTAL HEALTH”
By putting a person’s psychological and physical health on equal footing, Clinton’s proposal for treating mental health is designed to eliminate obstacles both social and institutional when it comes to patients receiving the care they need.
“The next generation must grow up knowing that mental health is a key component of overall health and there is no shame, stigma or barriers to seeking out care,” the plan states. To accomplish this, the proposal calls for increasing resources during vulnerable points in a person’s life, including middle and high school, college and after pregnancy. It also seeks to decriminalize mental health by favoring treatment over jail time where deemed appropriate.4
Of particular concern within the plan is the issue of suicide, which currently claims some 40,000 American lives every year.5 More than just an individual or community issue, Clinton views suicide and its prevention as a national challenge, particularly when it comes to the country’s most disadvantaged groups. In order to accomplish this, the proposal looks at the possibility of using emerging technology to identify those in need of help.
Angela Kimball is the national director for advocacy and public policy for the National Alliance on Mental Illness. Speaking about these and other policies the proposal lists, she told Healthline, “There is nothing in there that we dislike. We support all of it.” 6
The plan also receives high marks from those involved in the business-side of mental health care, in part due to its commitment to increasing the availability and affordability of long-distance care via a phone or other device, also known as telehealth.7
“Lack of access to mental health care in the U.S. is a massive–and costly–problem, and it’s one that telehealth is uniquely suited to help solve,” Doctor On Demand CEO Hill Ferguson said in a statement.8
“A NATIONAL EPIDEMIC”
The year 2014 saw more deaths–47,055 in all–from drug overdoses than any other year on record here in the United States.9 Meanwhile, alcohol continues to account for one in 10 deaths among those between the ages of 20 and 64. “Drug and alcohol addiction is a national epidemic,” Clinton’s proposal reads, “and we cannot arrest and incarcerate our way out of it.”10
Glen Hanson is the director of the Utah Addiction Center and the former director of the National Institute on Drug Abuse. He is also an ardent supporter of emphasizing treatment over jail time for those struggling with addiction.
“Putting someone behind bars does not restore brain function. It’s like saying to a Parkinson’s patient, ‘You know what? I don’t like the way you tremor. So what I’m going to do is put you in jail for five years, give you some motivation to not tremor and if you’re still tremoring I’m going to put you back in jail,” he said in this exclusive interview with Foundations Recovery Network.
That isn’t to say a person using drugs should never be incarcerated, Hanson explained. “Say someone uses meth and does a horrendous thing. We can’t just let them walk the streets. Incarceration has a role to play, but we should never think it’s the solution to the problem.”
In place of jail, Clinton promises to allot a jaw-dropping $10 billion toward prevention and rehabilitation.
“Just the fact it has the b-word—billion—says to me that Clinton grasps the depth of the problem,” Stanford’s drug policy researcher Keith Humphreys told Vox.11
Like Clinton’s mental health proposal, it advocates early intervention through evidence-based and locally tailored school programs. “We need to do far more as a nation to educate our youth, as well as their families, teachers, coaches, mentors and friends to intervene early in order to prevent drug and alcohol abuse and addiction,” it states.12
And just as the mental health proposal stresses the need of removing stigma and viewing mental health as a physical illness, this one emphasizes the need of viewing and treating addiction as a chronic disease with origins in a person’s brain. For this reason, the initiative calls for all first responders to be armed with the life-saving naloxone, expanding in- and out-patient providers, and ensuring insurance coverage for treatment.
Of all the substances currently claiming American lives, none have seen a greater surge in use than opioids, with heroin-related deaths more than tripling in the span of four years 13 and synthetic opioid-related deaths doubling in just two.14 And while controlling the supply of opioids is difficult to do from a legislative standpoint, Clinton’s proposal is designed to curb excess prescriptions by requiring a minimum level of training for those practitioners tasked with signing the orders.
If there’s anything Hanson is wary about when it comes to Clinton’s proposal, it’s the tendency of initiatives like these to focus too much on the addictive behavior itself.
“That’s the tip of the iceberg,” he said. “You need to make sure all aspects of a person’s needs have to be addressed if you’re going to reintegrate them into society so they’re working and have confidence in who they are.”
Whether or not Hanson’s concerns are justified only time—and one of the country’s most hand-wringing elections to date—can tell.
Written by Tamarra Kemsley