- The Washington Times - Friday, August 23, 2019

Democratic presidential candidate Pete Buttigieg on Friday announced a plan to improve mental health care and fight opioid addiction, saying he would force insurance companies to pay for treatments.

He said the plan would prevent 1 million “death of despair” from drugs, alcohol and suicide by 2028.

“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,” said Mr. Buttigieg, the mayor of South Bend, Indiana. “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.”

Mr. Buttigieg is vying with 22 other candidates for the Democratic presidential nomination. Others have floated plans to improve mental health care, including Sen. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts and Sen. Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota.

In the 2016 campaign, President Trump promised to fight the opioid addiction crisis and once in office, appointed a “drug czar” to lead the effort.

Mr. Buttigieg said his plan would make treatment of mental illness on par with physical ailments.

The plan also would divert mentally ill people from the criminal justice system into treatment, which he promised would decreasing the number of people incarcerated due to mental illness or substance use by 75% by the end of his first term.

His plan included:

• Enforcing parity for mental health and addiction treatment coverage by penalizing insurance companies that do not comply.

• Spending $10 billion annual on “Healing and Belonging” grants for communities most affected by mental illness and addiction.

• Providing universal access to medication to treat opioid use disorder, including medication-assisted treatment.

• Expanding the mental health and addiction workforce.

• Expanding to all 50 states programs for taking-home naloxone, a drug that reverses opioid overdoses.

• Requiring every school across the country to teach Mental Health First Aid courses.

• Launching a national campaign to end social isolation and loneliness.

The campaign noted that today fewer than one in five people struggling with drug addiction and two of every five people with a mental illness receive treatment.

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