Kamala Harris' Medicare for All plan would cover mental health services on demand

Democratic 2020 U.S. presidential candidate Senator Kamala Harris attends a Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Af
Democratic 2020 U.S. presidential candidate Senator Kamala Harris attends a Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee hearing on threats to the homeland on Capitol Hill in Washington November 5, 2019. (Yuri Gripas/Reuters)

U.S. Sen. Kamala Harris of California is announcing a mental health plan today that as part of her Medicare for All will cover mental health on demand — that is, to anyone who needs it, whenever they need it and wherever they need it.

The nation is experiencing a mental health crisis, according to Harris. She said 45 million adults experience mental illness, suicide has increased as much as 30 percent in 25 states from 1999 to 2016, and natural disasters and mass shooting are contributing to post-traumatic stress in children and adults.

Harris’ plan, which she will unveil an event in Berkeley County, S.C., calls for doubling the number of treatment beds, giving priority to states with shortages, and supporting veterans’ mental health by doubling research dollars for the departments of Defense and Veterans Affairs to address post-traumatic stress disorder, military sexual trauma and traumatic brain injury.

“We have failed when it comes to policy solutions for Americans struggling with mental health,” Harris said. “Too often we only focus on health care from the neck down, and we need to ensure we are addressing health care from the neck up.”

Harris, who spoke about the need to improve mental health services while campaigning in Washington, Iowa, over the weekend, said her plan would deliver “mental health care on demand” by removing high copays and deductibles, providing direct access to providers via telemedicine, and investing research dollars into public health challenges facing our veterans.

Harris draws on her experience as a San Francisco prosecutor. She advocated for more funds for mental health services and providing domestic violence survivors mental health counseling. As California attorney general, she called for legislation to create a pilot program to help elementary schools provide mental health services to students, and create housing program with mental health services for child sex trafficking victims.

An Iowa mental health leader familiar with Harris’ plan thanked her for listening to the concerns of families of those with mental health issues.


“Her plan can lead to saving and improving lives of not only those who are so very sick, but their families as well,” said Leslie Carpenter of Iowa City, co-founder of Iowa Mental Health Advocacy. She has a 28-year-old son a schizoaffective disorder, which is one of the most difficult brain disorders to treat.

“Over the course of the past 11 to 12 years, we have faced so many barriers to getting our son the medical treatment and long-term care that he has so desperately needed,” Carpenter said. “This is a comprehensive, substantive plan to end the criminalization of serious mental illnesses with several policy changes that will improve access to treatment and improve the ability of families to support their loved ones through treatment and in recovery.”

As part of her plan, Harris is calling for an end of the mental illness to jail pipeline. She would increase funds for integrating specialized police, mental health professionals, EMS, 911 systems, and hospital emergency rooms in response to mental health crisis calls. She would increase federal funding for hiring mental health professionals to accompany police in responding to calls for individuals in mental crises.

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