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Ontario NDP promises universal mental health coverage if elected in June

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The New Democratic Party has promised to incorporate mental health services into Ontario’s publicly-funded health insurance program if elected in June, starting with free access to counselling and therapy.

Leader Andrea Horwath unveiled seven pages of her party’s election platform on Sunday, committing $1.15 billion to a Universal Mental Health Care plan that would allow Ontarians to access psychotherapy services using their OHIP card.

“In Ontario, people are suffering in silence because they can’t afford therapy. People leave their doctor or the hospital with a referral for counselling — knowing they need ongoing care, but knowing they’ll never be able to pay for it,” the platform says.

“Guaranteeing mental health care without cost will give people somewhere to turn. It will mean we can address mental health challenges before they become mental health crises.”

The first step of the plan will be to expand OHIP coverage to include a minimum of six psychotherapy treatments, rising to 12 sessions for patients who need it. The party will begin this process with an immediate $500 million investment.

“This approach allows for people to start with six sessions and decide with their care provider to enrol in the second step, or move to more complex care,” officials said.

The NDP will also fund training in Cognitive Behavioural Therapy for doctors, nurses, community health-care workers and social workers to increase the number of practitioners.

Under the existing OHIP system, mental health services are offered for free in the case of hospital admission or involvement in the criminal justice system.

A family doctor or community nurse can offer therapy services if trained to do so; however, the wait list could be lengthy.

“Most family doctors don’t have training required to offer in-depth and ongoing psychotherapy and will refer patients to a psychiatrist. Choices for treatments available to patients can be limited by the experience and expertise of the psychiatrist,” the plan says.

“Many patients would benefit from talk therapy, whereas psychiatrists typically focus on medical approaches. There are nurses, social workers, and community health workers providing free or low-cost therapy at ‘community-based’ mental health organizations. However, even these organizations have wait lists.”

A new co-ordinating organization called “Mental Health Ontario” would also be created to work on publicly reporting mental health data, including wait list times. They will also help identify and develop province-wide mental health standards and ensure the delivery of comprehensive mental health and addiction programs.

The NDP are also promising to reduce the wait list for mental health services for children and youth to 30 days.

In addition to the $1.15 billion for the Universal Mental Health Care, the NDP says it will commit $130 million over three years to reduce the wait list for children’s mental health services, an additional $24 million in funding for Canadian Mental Health Association branches and $17 million for mobile crisis teams and safe beds.

According to Horwath, for every $1 invested into mental health, an additional dollar will be saved long-term for social, emergency and justice services.

Speaking to a large crowd at Evergreen Brickworks on Sunday, Horwath reminded residents of the promises her party had previously made, including a $20 minimum wage.

"When the dust settles on June 2, we will form government and start to get it done," she said. "Hope is on the way."

Horwath said that about 500,000 Ontarians with mental health needs have no access to the appropriate services because they do not have insurance.

" Our universal mental health care plan will give everyone, from children to seniorrs, from Windsor in the South, to Red Lake in the North, from Cornwall in the east to Kenora in the west the mental health services and treatment they need," Horwath told the crowd.

"My friends, we are going to bring mental health services into OHIP where they belong!"

 

Doug Ford’s Progressive Conservative Party, for its part, has pledged $3.8 billion over 10 years “to expand existing programs and fill gaps in care with innovative solutions and services.”

In the Ontario Green Party's platform, $6.6 billion would be spent over four years on mental health and addiction services, including expanded coverage under OHIP and a province-wide hotline.

The Ontario Liberals have not yet released their election platform.

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