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Elizabeth Warren Answers Your Questions About Disability, Chronic Pain and Mental Health

Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) came into election season swinging, with a plan for just about everything. Her official disability plan came in January 2020, after months of collaboration with actual people in the disability community. As primary season heats up ahead of the impending presidential election in November, it’s the perfect time to learn more about Warren’s disability and health policies.

Warren’s 16-page disability plan, unveiled Jan. 2, covers everything from eliminating the “benefit cliff” of Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) to combating ableism.

“Though we have made significant progress for the 61 million Americans living with disabilities, we have a lot of ground left to cover,” Warren wrote in her plan, adding:

People with disabilities are still fighting for economic security, equal opportunity, and inclusion — and they are not fighting alone. As President, I will work in partnership with the disability community to combat ableism.

To learn more about this year’s presidential candidates’ plans for the disability, chronic illness and mental health communities, The Mighty reached out to the leading Democratic presidential candidates to get their take on a few hot button questions The Mighty community wanted answered.

Here’s what Warren had to say about accessibility, health care costs and mental health treatment:

How do you plan on lowering medical costs for people with disabilities and chronic illnesses?

The cost of health care is crushing American families, even those with good insurance. Medicare for All will be a game-changer for all of us, but it will be particularly impactful for people with disabilities. To bring costs down, I will take immediate action to bring down the high costs of many common prescription drugs, including insulin and EpiPens. And then I’ll work with Congress to quickly expand Medicare by lowering the Medicare age to 50 and creating a Medicare for All option — both of which cover vision, hearing, mental health, dental, and long-term care.

As we transition to Medicare for All, I will roll back harmful work requirements, enrollment caps, and Medicaid premiums allowed by the Trump Administration to ensure that Americans with disabilities can get the care they need. In this period, I will continue to oppose block granting Medicaid, defend funding for critical support services like non-emergency medical transportation, and work with states to pilot demonstrations to improve Medicaid portability for beneficiaries who are traveling or in cases of displacement or disaster. I will also direct the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services to further integrate information about medical devices into claims data so we can accurately track their safety — an especially important issue for those with disabilities, many of whom rely on medical equipment and devices.

Then, under Medicare for All, I will fight to improve critical elements of Medicaid’s long-term services and supports (LTSS) coverage, which states will continue to manage, including strengthening and expanding the MFP program.

I firmly believe in the right of those with mental illnesses and disabilities to live and participate in their communities. My administration will enact and build on the Disability Integration Act and fully enforce the Olmstead decision to achieve its promise of community-based treatment and services under Medicare for All. As we make home and community-based services mandatory under Medicare for All, we will work to better standardize these benefits across states and eliminate Medicaid’s estate recovery, marriage penalty, and LTSS asset test — all of which create cost barriers for patients.

I will also fight to lower the costs of assistive technologies that increase accessibility for people with disabilities. In the Senate, I passed the Over-the-Counter Hearing Aid Act to make hearing aids more affordable. If companies that receive government funding to develop their products will not or cannot offer key assistive technologies at reasonable prices, a Warren administration will use its authority under the Bayh-Dole Act to license patented innovations to companies that will ensure that technologies are affordable and accessible to people with disabilities. I will also fight for increased funding for the National Institutes of Health to expand research into affordable and life-changing supports for people with disabilities and break up big tech companies to stimulate competition and innovation.

How do you plan to protect patients with pre-existing conditions and ensure they have access to affordable, high-quality health care?

In a Warren administration, everyone in America will be able to see the doctor they need and be covered for vision, dental, hearing, and more — at little or no cost to them whatsoever. No more out-of-network costs, no surprises, and no one going broke because they get sick. Under my plan, every American will have affordable, high-quality health care — and no one will be denied coverage for a pre-existing condition. But I won’t wait — while my administration works with Congress to expand Medicare and create the Medicare for All option, I will pick up every administrative tool Donald Trump has used to undermine Americans’ health care and do the opposite, reversing the actions that threaten coverage for people with pre-existing conditions.

  • Defend the ACA in court and close regulatory loopholes. The Trump administration has abandoned its duty to defend current laws in court, cheering on efforts to destroy protections for pre-existing conditions, insurance coverage for dependents until they’re 26, and the other critical Affordable Care Act benefits. In a Warren administration, the Department of Justice will defend this law. And we will close the loopholes created by the Trump administration, using 1332 waivers, that could allow states to steer healthy people toward parallel, unregulated markets for junk health plans. This will shut down a stealth attack on people with pre-existing conditions who would see their premiums substantially increase as healthier people leave the marketplace.
  • Ban junk health plans. The Trump administration has expanded the use of junk health insurance plans as an alternative to comprehensive health plans that meet the standards of the ACA. These plans cover few benefits, discriminate against people with pre-existing conditions, and increase costs for everyone else. And in some cases, they direct as much as 50 percent of patient premiums to administrative expenses or profit. I will ban junk plans.
  • Reverse Medicaid sabotage. I will roll back harmful work requirements, block grants, enrollment caps, and Medicaid premiums allowed by the Trump Administration to ensure that Americans with disabilities and other Medicaid-eligible people with pre-existing conditions can get the care they need.
  • Restore non-discrimination protections in health care. I will immediately reverse the Trump administration’s terrible proposed rule permitting health plans and health providers to discriminate against women, LGBTQ+ people, individuals with limited English proficiency, disabilities, and more.

How do you plan to improve or change mental health care in the U.S., including access and affordability?

Under my plan, every American will have comprehensive health coverage that includes mental health and substance use disorder treatment. That means adopting full mental health parity in both my transition plans and fully-enacted Medicare for All. And as we transition to Medicare for All, I will also enforce the current laws that require health insurers to provide mental health and substance use disorder benefits in parity with physical health benefits. In 2018, less than half of people with mental illness received treatment and less than a fifth of people who needed substance use treatment actually received it. As president, I will launch a full-scale effort to enforce these requirements – with coordinated actions by the IRS, Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, and Department of Labor to make sure health plans actually provide mental health treatment in the same way they provide other treatment.

We will also make it easier for service members and veterans to see a mental health professional, including by significantly increasing the number of mental health specialists at DOD and VA, streamlining appointment processes, and enhancing access to telehealth options for those who cannot come to a VA facility.

But to provide care to all those who need it, we also need to increase our supply of mental health providers. I will make critical investments in our clinicians, including by dramatically scaling up apprenticeship programs to build a health care workforce rooted in the community. I will lift the cap on residency placements, allowing 15,000 new clinicians to enter the workforce. I will expand the National Health Service Corps and Indian Health Service loan repayment program to allow more health professionals – including mental health practitioners – to practice in underserved communities. I will also provide grants to states that expand scope-of-practice to allow more non-physicians to practice primary care. My administration will push for culturally competent, language-inclusive, and identity-affirming health services and training for professionals, especially in mental health. And I will push to close the mental health provider gap in schools.

It’s also important to address how we decriminalize mental health crisis. In addition to investing in Medicare for All to provide critical mental health services, I’ll increase funding for “co-responder” initiatives that connect law enforcement to mental health care providers and experts. And my administration will pilot evidence-based crisis response efforts to provide needed services to individuals with mental illness.

What is your perspective on pain medications (especially opioids) for those with chronic pain and how does that fit into your health care plans?

It is essential that programs and policies meant to deter opioid abuse do not force millions of Americans to lose access to critical medicine and live in pain. My administration will take care to balance both priorities. We will also work to increase access to alternative pain management treatments by legalizing marijuana and ensuring other substances are appropriately scheduled by the Drug Enforcement Administration.

How do you plan on continuing to prioritize the needs of the disability community if you are elected?

As President, I will work in partnership with the disability community to combat ableism.

And I will fight alongside them for justice across all aspects of life and to fulfill the goals of the ADA: equal opportunity, full participation, independent living, and economic self-sufficiency.

I’ll start by making clear that disability is a priority in my administration, creating a National Office of Disability Coordination to ensure that federal programs work together to support people with disabilities.

A Warren Administration will also:

  • Fight for economic security for people with disabilities by rewriting the rules of the economy to end labor market discrimination and exploitation and foster inclusivity.
  • Support children with disabilities and their families by providing crucial early interventions and ensuring meaningful access to education.
  • Ensure that technology is used to advance the interests of people with disabilities;
  • Protect the rights and civil liberties of people with disabilities in areas like voting, criminal justice, and parental custody;
  • Promote affordable, accessible, and green living;
  • Ensure consistent access to affordable, high-quality health care; and
  • Make America a leader in the fight for disability rights around the world.

Anything additional you would like to add?

I have sought input from the community in the development of my plans and we had been weaving disability into my previously released plans — from housing to environmental justice to education. When we were ready to roll out our full disability plan, our campaign formed a working group of disability rights advocates and experts to ensure we are achieving a truly inclusive America under my plan.

Read additional coverage of the 2020 presidential election:

Header image via Elizabeth Warren’s Facebook page