We asked Tom Steyer to get on the record about mental health and addiction. Here's what he had to say:
1. Suicide is the 10th leading cause of death in the US and the second leading cause of death for American youth. Every day, 20 Veterans die by suicide. What steps will you take to prevent suicide?
With soaring suicide rates in the United States, including in our youth, military and veterans communities, it is urgent that we address this public health crisis.
I will work tirelessly to address the challenge of preventing suicides, especially among our servicemen and women and young people, and to expand health services to vulnerable people, including ways to seek help from mental health professionals. Non-mental health physicians and frontline healthcare providers are in a key position to screen for PTSD, depression, and suicidal ideation in these patients. We need to work with advocates and medical professionals so our most vulnerable people receive the care they need and interventions can be achieved. I also stand ready to implement the most urgent common-sense gun safety reforms and address the opioid crisis to tackle and reduce suicide rates.
2. Every hour, eight people in America die of drug overdose, from opioids and increasingly from other drugs as well. What would your administration do to turn the tide on the addiction crisis?
For me this is a spiritual question. How can we think of ourselves as a society that is flourishing and has purposes and people understand what we are doing in the earth, if we have soaring addiction rates and soaring suicide rates? For us to heal this we will have to understand where people are and support them in getting them to a place where they want to be. Addiction is a huge health issue in the United States. It’s all over the country and incredibly painful for everybody involved, both for the people addicted, their families, and their communities. It’s not one person that hurts, the pain spirals out to everybody. We have to look at it in a number of ways, including breaking the corporate stranglehold on our government.
My Right to Health plan addresses the opioid crisis by investing $75 billion in new funding over ten years to resource treatment programs, hold big pharmaceutical corporations and their executives accountable, and strongly enforce against the illegal distribution and sale of opioids. We must also encourage prescribers to utilize other therapies prior to dispensing prescriptions for opioids and other addictive medications.
3. Rates of anxiety, depression and suicidal behavior are all rising among our teens and young adults, but the time from first symptoms (usually around age fourteen) to treatment continues to be almost a decade for many people. What would you do to make sure that more individuals get the help they need when they first need it?
Teenage anxiety and suicide rates are on the rise. I will fight to protect our students from toxic stress and ensure everyone has access to mental health services. I will provide funding to states to double the number of mental health professionals on campus, and adopt school-based mental health programs that have been proven to foster student well-being and academic success. A Steyer administration also will fund pilot programs to teach students to safely interact with digital technologies — one of the culprits behind rising teenage anxiety. I will fight to make universal health care, including coverage for mental health, a constitutional right and fight for a living wage for all Americans.
4. Our nation is experiencing a shortage of mental health and addiction care providers—including both traditional mental health professionals and paraprofessionals like certified peer support specialists and recovery coaches—and other barriers to treatment, especially in rural and underserved areas. What is your position on improving access to mental health and addiction care for these communities?
The corporate stranglehold over our healthcare system puts the health of rural communities in jeopardy. Mergers and consolidations have closed hospitals, resulting in critical services — such as mental health treatment programs — being cut dramatically. To address the shortage of mental health care providers, I will:
- Prevent hospital closures by reviewing mergers for antitrust violations and ensuring the merged entity maintains a high standard of care; providing resources to rural hospitals through increased global revenues and/or provider rates; and invest in telemedicine to improve specialized care and help bridge local provider shortages.
- Address the shortage of rural healthcare providers by following through on our national commitment to the public service student loan forgiveness program, unlike President Trump; and work with states to grow the class size of public medical and nursing schools to train more healthcare providers.
- Invest $100 billion over a decade to revolutionize the way America addresses mental health care. Vocally champion mental health treatment to reduce the stigma of seeking care; partner with the Department of Health and Human Services, the Department of Education, public schools, the prison system, and providers to initiate a nationwide conversation on the importance of mental health. Mandate that insurance programs provide full mental health coverage, increase access to telemedicine, and train additional specialized healthcare providers.
5. For many people, the initial point of care for their mental health condition or substance use disorder begins with the criminal justice system. What is your plan to advance crisis intervention services in the community while also providing treatment and alternatives to incarceration for those already involved in the criminal justice system?
Rather than levy hefty fines or force people into overpacked jails, elected leaders across all levels of government should ensure access to mental health services. My criminal justice plan will invest in restorative justice, diversion, counseling, and community service programs. Evidence shows that alternatives to detention markedly improve a youth’s chance of avoiding continued engagement with the criminal justice system.
There is a mental health crisis in America; among comparable countries, the U.S. has the highest rate of death from mental health and substance use disorders. While there have been improvements in mental health in recent years, access to providers and affordability still present challenges for almost half of America’s population. As president, mental health would be included in my universal healthcare plan. The Right to Health, including mental health, would be a top priority for my administration. We would make certain there was adequate funding of at least current levels for mental health services.
6. The Mental Health Parity and Addiction Equity Act (Federal Parity Law) was enacted in 2008, yet some insurers continue to illegally deny coverage of care for mental health and addiction treatment services. How will you ensure enforcement of the Federal Parity Law?
Mental health parity is a key component of overall health for Americans. Whether one is struggling with addiction, cognitive disability, or Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, my Right to Health plan will allocate $100 billion specifically to mental health services. If you are sick, you need assistance, you need care, you need professional care, you will get that under my plan.
7. How will you fulfill the intent of the Community Mental Health Act of 1963, a law that meant to ensure that people have access to mental health and developmental disability care within their communities rather than in institutions?
Every American deserves the right to health care, and I understand that different communities face different health care needs, including mental health and developmental disability needs. For too long, people with disabilities have been denied a full suite of health care services.
Home and Community-Based Services (HCBS) are instrumental for people living with disabilities to achieve independence. Like many issues in health care, HCBS services vary wildly by state. Tom will work with state partners and advocates to ensure that the standards and funding streams are sufficient to meet the unique needs of the disabled community. Ensuring that all Americans have access to quality, affordable, and secure health care will be a top priority of a Steyer administration.
8. Poverty is associated with very poor outcomes for people with mental health or substance use disorders, primarily due to lack of secure housing and employment opportunities. What will you do to ensure that income is not a barrier to recovery?
Too many communities across America face housing challenges and endemic poverty, and people who have substance use disorders or poor mental health are disproportionately more vulnerable and more likely to experience poverty. In my administration, a lack of income will not be a barrier to recovery from mental health or other disorders.
Government should ensure access to mental health services and embrace a housing-first approach; we must also address the affordable housing crisis plaguing cities across the country as wages for the average worker stagnate. As president, I will fight to make universal health care, including coverage for mental health, a constitutional right and fight for a living wage for all Americans. First, we must have prevention programs across our country, so that all communities, including those experiencing poverty, have access to mental health resources as part of all comprehensive health plans. Second, my administration will dedicate $100 billion over a decade to revolutionize the way America addresses mental health care, to ensure that care is affordable and accessible. I will also protect federal programs like SNAP and Social Security to ensure a social safety net.
In 2017, I helped to pass Los Angeles’ Measure H, which imposed a quarter cent sales tax to provide homeless Angelenos with supportive services, including funding for mental health and substance abuse treatment, job training, and rental subsidies. I contributed $250,000 in support of the measure. During the following year, I supported Proposition 2, a California ballot measure also known as Use Millionaire’s Tax Revenue for Homelessness Prevention Housing Bonds Measure. The proposition, which allowed the state to raise bond funds for homelessness prevention housing for those suffering with mental illness, passed with overwhelming support.
9. People of color, immigrants, Veterans, people living in poverty, people who identify as LGBTQ+, and others have unique needs and challenges as it relates to mental health and addiction. What will you do to ensure that these and other underserved groups have access to the mental health and addiction resources and supports that they need?
The Affordable Care Act (ACA) provided millions of LGBTQ Americans with comprehensive, affordable, non-discriminatory healthcare, many for the first time in their lives. Health disparities for the LGBTQ community are pronounced and distinct from many other communities. I will fight for increased funding for research and education to fight HIV/AIDS and ensure that PReP is covered by all insurance plans. My Right to Health plan builds on the success of the ACA, Medicare and Medicaid. It creates a public option which will cover 96% of Americans with quality affordable and secure healthcare; including preventative services, mental health coverage, coverage of pre-existing conditions, and treatment options for those with HIV/AIDS.
10. Given that overdoses and suicides are decreasing US life expectancy, evidence-based treatment options are critical, but treatment options are still limited. What role do you see research playing in improving mental health and addiction treatments?
Our country’s institutions of higher learning are making academic breakthroughs, pioneering new research, and educating our next generation of leaders. It is these educational and research institutions that can play a pivotal role in understanding the most effective treatment options, with an evidence-base. My administration will treat the overdose and suicide epidemics as the crises they are, and work in partnership with our nation’s universities, and colleges, and research institutions on these issues, so that we can improve treatment and recovery options.
11. Is there anything else you’d like to share with the mental health and addiction community?
More funding is needed for mental health care. There is a mental health crisis in America; among comparable countries, the U.S. has the highest rate of death from mental health and substance use disorders. While there have been improvements in mental health in recent years, access to providers and affordability still present challenges for almost half of America’s population. The Right to Health, including mental health, would be a top priority for my administration. We would make certain there was adequate funding of at least current levels for mental health services. We need to have a holistic approach to health and health care; mental health is as important as physical health and we will have parity in my health care plan.