South Bend, Indiana, Mayor Pete Buttigieg on Friday released a plan to combat addiction and provide mental health services, outlining a proposal that aims to reduce the stigma around mental health, penalizes insurance companies that do not offer mental health coverage and offers $10 billion in annual grants for communities to address the issues.
The policy rollout comes ahead of the 2020 presidential candidate’s weekend to New Hampshire, a state that has been ravaged by the opioid epidemic.
“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.”
Buttigieg’s 18-page plan sets out three distinct goals. It aims to prevent 1 million deaths by drugs, alcohol or suicide by 2028. It also says it would guarantee that 75% of people who need mental health services receive them by the end of Buttigieg’s hypothetical first term as president. Finally, the plan wants to reduce people incarcerated due to mental illness by 75% — a move that fits into a previous proposal by Buttigieg to cut total incarceration at the federal and state levels by 50%.
To address the opioid epidemic, Buttigieg proposes expanding take-home naloxone programs, which dramatically increase the availability of the overdose fighting drug, to all states by 2024. The plan would also require all insurers – including Medicare and state Medicaid agencies – to cover medication-assisted treatment as a way to fight opioid addiction.
To tackle the mental health issue, Buttigieg pledges to “dramatically” expand the mental health and addiction workforce by creating training and education programs for the field and use his previously released national service plan to create service opportunities to help people with mental health issues.
Buttigieg would also require “every school across the country to teach Mental Health First Aid courses” and launch “a national campaign to end social isolation and loneliness.”
Mental health is a key issue for voters in 2020. Presidential candidates are often asked about it during town halls, and New York Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand released a plan on the issue earlier this week, joining similar proposals by candidates like Massachusetts Rep. Seth Moulton and former Rep. John Delaney, among others.
“We’ve got to break the silence about mental health,” Buttigieg said earlier this month in Iowa. “We’ll know we’re getting somewhere when it’s just as routine to get an emotional health checkup as it is getting a physical.”
The rise in questions about mental health has come in the context of mass shootings across the country, including recent shootings in El Paso, Texas, and Dayton, Ohio.
“There’s no question that all of us are safer when there’s proper mental health care, but that also shouldn’t be a free pass to deal with immediate issues that we know we’ve got to get on top of from countering violent extremism to managing access to deadly weapons,” Buttigieg said on the recent trip to Iowa.
Buttigieg also often talks about mental health through his own experience with mental well-being after serving in Afghanistan in 2014.
“We’re getting better at this, slowly but surely,” Buttigieg said in Iowa. “When I came back from Afghanistan, we did a better job than we did a generation ago on encouraging people to talk about it, but it’s still something that I think a lot of people hesitate to come forward about.”
Buttigieg also spoke about mental health when he traveled to the Veterans Community Project in Kansas City in July. The nonprofit has been spearheaded by Jason Kander, a Missouri politician and veteran who dropped out of the race to be Kansas City’s mayor in order to treat his post-traumatic stress disorder.