Grossman, Coakley release plans to improve behavioral health services

On the same day Martha Coakley released her plan to improve behavioral health services, her Democratic rival for governor Steven Grossman released a competing vision that called for a moratorium on the expansion or new construction of state and county prisons and to reinvest those dollars into treatment and rehabilitation facilities.

The two plans align in many respects, with both calling for de-emphasis on incarceration in favor of more treatment for mental health and substance abuse issues and increased reimbursement rates for service providers. Grossman, the state’s treasurer, also recommended enhanced drug awareness and mental health programs for middle and high school students and a $10 million competitive grant program for communities and schools to implement awareness, prevention and training programs.

“Mental illness and addiction are public health issues that impact Massachusetts families in every region of the state and across every income level,” Grossman said in a statement. “Government has a critical role to play in providing our most vulnerable residents with the care and treatment they need to get better.”

Grossman told the News Service the cost of his initiatives could total “tens of millions of dollars and perhaps more.”

“Given the vulnerability of so many of our fellow citizens and children, I can’t think of a better investment to make,” he said.

Coakley did not provide a cost estimate for implementing her plan, though her advisors said the Democrat would be willing to look at new revenue to pay for her plan if economic growth did not provide sufficient new revenue to meet the needs.

Grossman’s plan also promotes workplace wellness programs that his campaign said returns $3.27 for every dollar invested, and calls for more investment in treatment programs to increase the number of detoxification units and step-down programs for those just released from prison. Under the proposal, Massachusetts would spearhead a regional task force co-chaired by the governors of the six New England states and New York to coordinate prevention and treatment efforts.

Increased public investments in behavioral health programs and increased insurance coverage and reimbursement rates for service providers are among the initiatives included by Coakley in a plan unveiled Monday by her campaign.

Coakley, the state’s attorney general, also urged lawmakers to reject spending cuts proposed by Gov. Deval Patrick that she said would eliminate services for hundreds of adults and children with behavioral health issues. Lawmakers who held their final fiscal 2015 budget hearing Friday heard calls for increased investments in mental health services and substance abuse treatment programs.

In her seven-page “Caring For All” plan, Coakley called for increased reimbursement rates for providers of outpatient care, transitional services, diversionary care, and school-based services. Coakley also said she would use the Corner Office and outreach programs to reduce stigma around mental illness.

In a video released Monday, Coakley shared memories of her brother’s mental illness. Coakley’s brother Edward committed suicide at the age of 33 after the death of their parents.

“I think with suicide there is this huge stigma of not wanting to talk about it,” Coakley said in the video.

According to her plan, more than 200,000 adults in Massachusetts live with a serious mental illness, such as schizophrenia, depression or bipolar disorder, and an estimated 84,000 children between the ages of 9 and 18 live with a mental illness that seriously impacts their life. The campaign estimates that more than half of adults living with a mental illness received no treatment in the past year and 42 percent of children in Massachusetts experiencing serious depression received any treatment.