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The Whole Health Campaign looks beyond the election

August 8, 2008
by Ronald W. Manderscheid, PhD
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The group has reached out to the party platform committees and is developing post-election plans

The Whole Health Campaign—WHC for short—generates intense enthusiasm and powerful energy in pursuit of a simple mission: placing mental health and substance use care on the national health agenda. In this endeavor, the WHC promotes three simple principles:

• parity insurance coverage for mental and substance use conditions;
• good integrated care across mental health, substance use, and primary care services; and
• research to develop better prevention and early intervention strategies.

Recently, I provided an overview of this joint initiative of the mental health and substance use care communities.

Between January and June 2008, the WHC conducted outreach to virtually all of the presidential candidates. The Campaign sought each candidate’s endorsement of the three principles. Without exception, all candidates acknowledged the importance of good mental health and substance use care, and many candidates included detailed statements about mental health and substance use care policy on their Web sites. This liaison work continues with the Obama and McCain campaigns. You can view a summary of all of the candidates’ positions on mental health and substance use care at the American College of Mental Health Administration Web site. A major segment of this year’s ACMHA Summit was devoted to enhancing the role of mental health and substance use care in the national election.

Very recently, the WHC has undertaken a very important new effort to incorporate the three principles into the Democratic and Republican parties’ platforms. On July 22, the WHC hosted an “Obama Platform Event” to structure appropriate input for the Democratic Party platform. At this event, the WHC leadership reaffirmed the three principles and recommended that they be forwarded to the Democratic Platform Committee, which has since been done. The Democratic Platform Committee has included the three principles in its draft. The WHC has been engaged in informal outreach to the leaders of the platform-drafting process to reinforce the WHC’s message, and a press release also was prepared and distributed to the national media.

While the Republican Party is not conducting local meetings on its platform, as the Democrats have done, it too has set up an online process for making a submission to the Republican Platform Committee. Through this process, the WHC submitted the same document as that prepared for the Democratic Party and has begun informal outreach to key members of the Republican Platform Committee.

Perhaps even more interesting for the post-election period, the WHC is in the early phases of thinking through a national strategy for mental health and substance use care for the next President and the next Congress. Essentially, the group is seeking to address two questions: What are some critical executive actions that we should request of our next President? And what legislative actions should we request of the next Congress?

The issues we are considering for a potential strategy relate to the three WHC principles. First, we expect that action will be taken by the next President on national healthcare reform through proposals to extend coverage to the uninsured. In these efforts, the WHC will need to advocate strongly for appropriate mental health and substance use care benefits at parity with physical healthcare benefits.

"In my experience, the WHC is the first national entity formed by the mental health and substance use care fields ever to engage the political candidates and the political process in a systematic way."
—Ronald W. Manderscheid, PhD

Second, we also expect that current initiatives to move toward integrated care systems will be expanded through new federal programs. In this context, the WHC will need to promote the integration of mental health, substance use, and primary care services through a range of models: integration, collaboration, and virtually.

Third, we expect that much greater attention will be paid by the next President and Congress to new population health and wellness approaches using a public health framework. The WHC will need to advocate strongly for better population strategies for preventing mental and substance use conditions, as well as population strategies for promoting wellness, recovery, and resiliency. For each of these issues, the WHC is fully committed to whole health—both mind and body.

In my experience, the WHC is the first national entity formed by the mental health and substance use care fields ever to engage the political candidates and the political process in a systematic way. This work has generated much enthusiasm among WHC member organizations, most of which participate actively in all WHC activities. From my point of view, the WHC is very energizing and very necessary for moving our joint agenda.

I hope that you and your organization will consider endorsing the three principles and joining the WHC. A strong, broad-based WHC is necessary to advocate effectively on those issues that are important to all of us.

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