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Bernie Sanders Answers Your Questions About Disability, Chronic Pain and Mental Health Care

Renee Fabian
Bernie Sanders

The 2020 presidential election is now less than a year away, yet there are still many candidates — especially Democratic candidates — vying for your vote. Earlier in the election cycle, Lauren Appelbaum, vice president of communications for RespectAbility, pointed out that disability was hardly considered in most presidential campaigns, despite nearly 25% of the population living with a disability.

Though candidates such as Andrew Yang, Pete Buttigieg and Julián Castro have since spoken up on the campaign trail for people with disabilities, Mighty contributor Brooks explained that people with disabilities shouldn’t be an after-thought during campaign season. Brooks wrote in the article, “To the 2020 Presidential Candidates, From a Voter With a Disability“:

Presidential candidates should actively talk about and raise awareness of the plethora of issues those in the disability community face. You all should speak to us, get to know our stories, our hopes, our fears and our struggles. I believe America is at its best when everyone has a chance to contribute to his or her God-given potential. So this election, please don’t use us as mere photo props or as another talking point.

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The Mighty reached out to the leading Democratic presidential candidates and asked them to weigh in on some of the most pressing questions our disability, chronic illness and mental health communities wanted answers to on how they will prioritize accessibility, health care costs and mental health treatment. Sen. Bernie Sanders’ (D-Vt.) campaign was the first to respond to our interview request.

Appelbaum pointed out that Sanders was the only candidate as of June to have a section of his website dedicated specifically to disability issues and, as Sanders’s explained in the responses to The Mighty’s questions, he has included the disability community in his plans for America’s health care.

Here’s what Sanders’ presidential campaign had to say:

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

Bernie Sanders believes health care isn’t a privilege — it’s a human right. That’s why he’s always fought for Medicare for All, a single-payer program that will guarantee comprehensive health care coverage to everyone in America. Under our current broken system, 11 percent of people with disabilities are uninsured. One-third of adults with disabilities ages 18 to 44 skipped receiving the care they need because of cost. One-fourth of adults with disabilities did not have a check-up in the past year.

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Under Medicare for All, everyone is covered. There are no premiums, no co-pays, no deductibles, no networks, no surprise bills. Health care will be free at the point of service. Medicare for All ends the institutional bias in our system and provides home-and community-based long-term services and supports to all people without waitlists or asset or income restrictions as well as:

  • Covers medical devices and assistive technologies.
  • Ensures no one in America pays over $200 a year for the medicine they need by capping what Americans pay for prescription drugs.
  • Bans Medicaid Estate Recovery.
  • Provides transportation for individuals with disabilities to receive the care they need.
  • Mental health care, under Medicare for All, will be free at the point of service, with no copayments or deductibles which can be a barrier to treatment.
  • Require an evaluation of health disparities, including geographic disparities, and a plan for addressing the disparities found in the evaluation. And create an Office of Primary Health to figure out how to increase access to care, including how to train the workforce we need to address these disparities.

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When Bernie is in the White House, we’re going to bring down the outrageous costs in our health care system by eliminating the profits of giant pharmaceutical and insurance companies. We’re going to bring down costs for hospitals and doctors by replacing the administrative paperwork bloat of our current insurance system with a single payer — Uncle Sam. And we’re going to make massive corporations like Amazon, who didn’t pay a nickel in federal income tax last year, pay their fair share.

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

Bernie believes that health care is a human right and has fought consistently to end the despicable practice of denying people coverage based on pre-existing conditions. No one should lose health insurance coverage due to a pre-existing condition. Our profit-driven health care system is failing our people. Our country deserves better. It’s time to end a system that lets insurers make money by denying care to people with disabilities. That is why, under Medicare for All, every person will have comprehensive coverage that cannot be taken away or changed based on the status of their health.

Furthermore, his Medicare for All plan will address the disparities in our system for people with disabilities that we still see in our country. Specifically, his plan requires the Department of Health to conduct an evaluation of health disparities, and to submit a plan to Congress for addressing the disparities found in the evaluation. It also creates an Office of Primary Health to increase access to care, including training the workforce we need to address these disparities. Finally, his Medicare for All plan includes explicit language that bans providers from discriminating against patients, including discrimination based on race, color, gender, and disability and allows courts to award damages to patients if this is violated. He will make sure every person gets the care they need.

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

We are experiencing a crisis in mental health treatment in this country. Bernie’s Medicare for All plan would address this crisis by providing comprehensive coverage for mental health and substance abuse treatment services as well as prescription drugs. Mental health care, under Medicare for All, will be free at the time of service, with no co-payments that can be a barrier to treatment.

Furthermore, Bernie firmly believes that no one should have to choose between being taken out of their homes and communities or being denied the support they need to survive and thrive. Bernie is committed to fulfilling the promise of the Olmstead decision by ensuring that all people with disabilities have access to both home and community-based services, mental health care, and accessible, affordable housing to ensure they can enjoy their right to live in the community. In a Bernie Sanders administration, the Olmstead decision will be vigorously enforced through the Department of Justice Civil Rights Division, reversing the Trump Administration’s disgraceful rollback of disability rights enforcement.

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

Roughly 50 million Americans struggle with chronic pain. Bernie will ensure they get the treatment they need by passing Medicare for All to guarantee health care as a human right. At the same time we address the addiction crisis in this country, we must cover the full range of pain management treatments including pain medications for people struggling with chronic pain and offer the option of evidence-based alternatives when appropriate. When Bernie is President, we will:

  • Pass Medicare for All to provide pain management care and treatments to everyone with chronic pain issues. Under Medicare for All, we will stop the pharmaceutical industry from ripping off Americans by making sure that no one in America pays over $200 a year for the medicine they need by capping what Americans pay for prescription drugs. We will follow CDC guidance on pain management to ensure people with chronic pain receive the medication they need, and offer the option of evidence-based alternatives when appropriate. And we will educate providers on evidence-based best practice treatment options for chronic pain conditions.
  • Make significant investments in funding for addiction treatment, recovery, prevention, and research. When we are in the White House, we will provide communities across the country struggling with the epidemic of addiction with the money and resources they need to address this issue while ensuring people receive the pain medication they need.
  • And we need to remove the greed and profit motive from pharmaceutical companies, who willfully ignored the risks of misuse and hold those responsible accountable by passing the Opioid Crisis Accountability and Results Act.
  • This bill will prevent illegal distribution of opioids and large unreasonable number of opioids from flooding rural communities and states, hold CEOs of drug companies criminally liable for illegal advertising, marketing, or distribution of opioids, penalize drug manufacturers who do not comply with the new regulations by eliminating patent exclusivity and require federal funds received by the company to be reimbursed to the government, and create and enforce fines on drug manufacturers who are found liable for worsening the opioid crisis.

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

When Bernie is in the White House, he will champion the rights of people with disabilities. As a nation, we have a moral responsibility to ensure that all people with disabilities have their rights protected. We will guarantee people with disabilities the right to live in the community; truly integrated employment that pays a living wage; affordable, accessible housing; and the right to health care, including mental health care and home and community based services and supports. We will reverse the criminalization of disabilities and ensure the immigration and citizenship process is fully accessible to people with disabilities. We will guarantee safe and accessible transportation for people with disabilities; we will increase educational opportunities for persons with disabilities, including an expansion in career and technical education opportunities to prepare students for good-paying community; we will protect and expand SSDI and SSI and eliminate the SSI asset test; we will ensure no person with a disability experiences discrimination or barriers to living a full and productive life by fully enforcing the Americans with Disabilities Act; we will ensure people with disabilities have full access to the internet; we will ensure justice for people with disabilities to recover from, and prepare for, the climate impacts; and we will ensure that ensure every voter has access to accessible, private, and expansive voting options.

When Bernie is in the White House, we will return to a government of, by, and for the people – not the billionaires and giant corporations. We will not have former corporate executives, big donors, and lobbyists in our administration. Instead, we will ensure people with disabilities are well represented in the administration and that everyone working in a Sanders administration makes it a priority to fight for the rights of people with disabilities in every aspect of their lives, from the right to affordable and accessible housing; to a livable wage by ending the subminimum wage and increasing the minimum wage to at least $15 an hour; to a complete high-quality education; and to comprehensive health care as a right – including mental health care, home- and community-based services and supports.

As President, Bernie will create a National Office of Disability Coordination focused on coordinating disability policy making to advance the full inclusion of people with disabilities, including ensuring every aspect of our public resources are ADA compliant and that the civil rights of people with disabilities are enforced. This office will be run by a person with a disability.

Every person with a disability deserves the right to live in the community and have the services and supports they need to pursue the American Dream. This right must be available to all, free of waiting lists and means tests. It is our moral responsibility to make it happen.

What disability-related questions do you want to ask 2020 presidential candidates?

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