When I was at the National Council conference last month, I found it interesting—and perhaps not coincidental—that three of the headliners were well-known Democrats: James Carville and Michael and Kitty Dukakis. Intrigued by this lack of political balance, I asked in our previous online poll if the behavioral healthcare field should more closely align itself with the Democratic Party.
About 44% said yes—a higher percentage than I had anticipated (I expected the vast majority would want to remain neutral). Some participants lamented Republicans' attitude toward behavioral healthcare. One person commented:
I was under the impression that the field has always aligned itself with the Democratic Party. Excep for the attention that was paid to Betty Ford, and the establishment of the Betty Ford Treatment Center, behavioral health has never been a focus for the Republican Party at least, not until it effects someone that they love. Regardless, the current Republican party has taken most of the valuable focus and needed programs from the U.S. mental Healthcare System. So if we are ever to see a focus again on the much needed services, we will probably have to align with the Demopcratic Party. The current plan developed by the Republican Party, for "prevention" and "patient focused care" is an embarrasment to healthcare workers nationwide.
Yet other poll participants warned that aligning with one party is dangerous, arguing that behavioral healthcare should not be a partisan issue:
We need to be non-partisan. What we need to do is work on strategies to shape the republican thinking. Let''s show them how early treatment and prevention saves money from being fiscally responsible to the citizens whom vote these folks into office.
While many Democrats have been strong supporters of behavioral healthcare, many, many Republicans also are key allies to the field, including Rep. Jim Ramstad (whose commitment was recognized by
Mental Health America yesterday) and the House and Senate GOP members who have helped push federal parity legislation so tantalizingly close to final passage.
Not supporting one party over another is a safe position, as neither party is ever in complete control for long, but taking sides can be an advantage when the preferred party is in power. Perhaps the best strategy is to support those candidates that pay attention to the field's concerns, and if that happens to include more Democrats, then so be it. But the winds in Washington change frequently and who knows, someday Republicans may be advocates' heroes.