Election 2012: Recovery Rooms and Party Platforms


September 5, 2012

by Ron Manderscheid


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The Coalition for Whole Health has undertaken key election tasks this year

With the annual demarcation of the Labor Day Holiday, Election 2012 is now in full swing. As in 2008, the Coalition for Whole Health (CWH) again has been very active in seeking to focus attention on mental illness and substance use prevention, care, and recovery at the Republican National Convention in Tampa, Florida, and at the Democratic National Convention in Charlotte, North Carolina.

CWH was formed in 2008 to promote recognition of the need to address mental illness and substance use conditions as part of the quadrennial national elections. At that time, CWH supported Recovery Rooms at the Republican and Democratic National Conventions, sought to increase attention to behavioral health issues in the party platforms, and prepared a series of white papers for the Transition Teams formed at the beginning of President Obama’s Administration. Later, CWH supported passage of the Affordable Care Act (ACA), and has since been working with the Administration and the field to implement national health reform. Over this four-year period, CWH has grown from fewer than 30 national and state mental health and substance use prevention and treatment advocacy organizations to more than 160. You can learn more about CWH at www.coalitionforwholehealth.org.

This year, as four years ago, CWH provided support for Recovery Rooms at both National Conventions. The Recovery Rooms were intended to serve as a safe haven for persons suffering from the effects of mental illness or substance use conditions while they were participating in the Conventions. Faces and Voices of Recovery—FAVOR—again took the lead in organizing both Recovery Rooms. The Rooms were staffed by volunteers, many of whom are peers recovering from mental or substance use conditions. We all owe Pat Taylor, Executive Director of FAVOR, a deep tip of our hat for her outstanding work in organizing these activities.

At the same time, CWH again sought to have its mission incorporated into the two party platforms. Simply stated, the CWH mission is to improve health insurance coverage, integrated care, and prevention services for persons with mental illness and substance use conditions.

This year, the Republican Party Platform (see: http://www.gop.com/2012-republican-platform_home/) recognizes both substance use and mental illness as serious health problems (p.22). It also voices strong support for health insurance coverage, clinical prevention services, and coordinated care.

Importantly, with respect to behavioral healthcare, it says: “We believe that all Americans should have improved access to affordable, coordinated, quality healthcare, including individuals struggling with mental illness. (p.33)”

By contrast, the Democratic Party Platform (see: http://assets.dstatic.org/dnc-platform/2012-National-Platform.pdf ) strongly supports the ACA and “accessible, affordable, high quality health care…. (p. 4)”, and it acknowledges the important role of clinical prevention services. It also addresses the need for a strong health care workforce and continued investment in public health infrastructure, including community-based efforts to prevent disease (p. 5).

Significantly, it says: “We remain committed to eliminating disparities in health and will continue to make sure families have access to mental health and substance abuse services. (p. 5).”

We are exceptionally pleased that CWH was able to organize Recovery Rooms at both national conventions and that both party platforms voice support for the three CWH aims. Each time we undertake these activities, we learn new lessons about how to work with the two major parties. CWH now will need to debrief on its 2012 activities, so that we can improve our effectiveness in the future.

Mental illness and substance use conditions are bipartisan; they have no party boundaries. Going forward, it will be very important for CWH to work with the health advisors to both campaigns to continue to voice our concerns and to express our hopes for more rapid progress in preventing, treating, and recovering from mental illness and substance use conditions. We hope that you will support us in these efforts.

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Ami Wazlawik

It sounds like CWH is doing some great work! I’m glad to hear that both parties are taking the issues of mental illness and substance abuse so seriously, as they impact so many people.