On every side of the political spectrum, from elected officials to activists to average people, you will find a concern for mental health. There is a serious deficiency in this country of adequate mental health care coverage, and it is endemic of a range of issues from substance abuse to gun violence. Nearly every Democratic candidate running for president includes some mention of mental health on their campaign websites. Bernie Sanders, for example, includes comprehensive, universal mental healthcare as a part of his Medicare for All plan, while others, such as Joe Biden, include the bare minimum, with little to no explanation on new policy.
Kamala Harris, however, is the only candidate to dedicate an entire section of their campaign website to mental healthcare, and released an entire eight-page policy plan. While this may sound like a bold, progressive step, this policy plan actually represents a full attack on the rights of patients.
First, it should be acknowledged there are certain aspects of Harris’s plan that, divorced from context, are good. Her first bullet point is “mental health on demand,” which is a laudable progressive goal. However, this point is a larger part of her “Medicare for All” plan. KamalaCare would include a 10-year transition period, which means any hostile administration elected in 2024 or 2028 could effectively dismantle it before it’s even implemented, as well as the further privatization of Medicare and the continuation of private health insurance providers. It is impossible to divorce the potential good within Harris’s mental health plan from the complete ineffectiveness of her healthcare plan.
One phrase that shows up repeatedly in Harris’s plan is “serious mental illnesses” (SMI). There is no hard definition within the plan about what is considered a serious mental illness, beyond “mental, behavioral, or emotional disorders, such as schizophrenia or severe bipolar disorder, that substantially interfere with major life activities.” This phrasing gives healthcare providers and policy makers free range to decide for themselves what is and isn’t considered a serious mental illness. On its face, this may seem like a good thing — after all, why shouldn’t doctors, who are considered experts in their fields, be able to decide what is and isn’t serious. This represents a fundamental misunderstanding of the relationship between doctors and their most marginalized patients.
Disabled people frequently struggle to get diagnoses from their healthcare providers and are forced to struggle with debilitating symptoms while doing their own research. For decades women have suffered from systematic underdiagnosis and to this day black and indigenous women are three to four times more likely to die from pregnancy compared to white women. Harris herself acknowledged this as a consequence of systematic bias, however her mental healthcare plan does not recognize how this bias can extend to those with mental disabilities.
The most concerning aspect of Harris’s mental health plan is its complete attack on the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA). HIPAA, which was passed in 1996, is a government policy which, among other things, guarantees privacy protections for patients. The final section within Harris’s plan, titled “Amend HIPAA to ensure family members can adequately support persons with mental illness,” represents an attempt to totally gut those protections for some of America’s most vulnerable. This policy would give providers free range to disclose confidential health information without the patient’s consent. This policy makes special mention to “permit disclosure of ‘financial’ and ‘treatment and care’ health information to family members that provide housing, case management, and transportation support to loved ones with mental illnesses.” This would be especially devastating for transgender youths seeking medical care without the knowledge of their potentially abusive parents.
Harris’s mental health plan is representative of much larger issues with her campaign, a paternalistic approach that has little faith in the competency of the average person. Rather than empowering those who are living with mental illnesses and disabilities, Harris’s plan relegates them to passive observers in their own healthcare as opposed to active participants. Instead of relying on institutions that have historically been deeply harmful and abusive towards the people they have been entrusted to protect, we must first and foremost involve those who would be most affected. We must take steps to improve the ability of people living with mental disabilities to advocate for themselves and to live independently without having to rely on those who might not have their best interests at heart.
Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed by individual writers in the opinion section do not reflect the views and opinions of The Daily Campus or other staff members. Only articles labeled “Editorial” are the official opinions of The Daily Campus.
Zoey Turturino is a contributor for The Daily Campus. She can be reached via email at email@example.com.