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Democratic, Republican Platforms Endorse Parity, Drug Courts

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The platforms adopted by the Democratic and Republican parties at their recent conventions both signal support for some form of mental-health parity legislation, preventative health services, and alternatives to incarceration for drug-related crime — rare instances where the parties' rhetoric and philosophy are in relative alignment.

The parties' platform is a manifesto listing the principles that members support as a basis for getting their candidate elected to office. Voted upon by a platform committee, the platform does not necessarily match up precisely with the campaign promises made by the candidates, but represents a consensus that candidates like John McCain and Barack Obama endorse as they accept their parties nomination at the convention, where the platform is approved.

Healthcare reform is a stated goal of both political parties, and the 2008 Democratic and Republican platforms each touches at least briefly on the parity issue. “A culture of wellness needs to include the treatment of mental health conditions,” states the GOP platform, adopted at the party's Minneapolis, Minn., convention in early September. “We believe all Americans should have access to affordable, quality health care, including individuals struggling with mental illness.  For this reason, we believe it is important that mental health care be treated equally with physical health care.”

The Republican platform does not spell out whether its definition of mental-health parity includes addictive diseases; the Democratic platform is more specific. Under the heading of “Affordable, Quality Health Care Coverage for All Americans,” the platform adopted by the Democrats at their August convention in Denver said families “should have health insurance coverage similar to what Members of Congress enjoy. They should not be forced to bear the burden of skyrocketing premiums, unaffordable deductibles or benefit limits that leave them at financial risk when they become sick.

“We will finally achieve long-overdue mental health and addiction treatment parity,” the Democratic platform states. ” …  Chronic-care and behavioral health management should be assured for all Americans who require care coordination. This includes assistance for those recovering from traumatic, life-altering injuries and illnesses as well as those with mental health and substance use disorders. We should promote additional tobacco and substance abuse prevention.” 

Both Republicans and Democrats promise to promote disease prevention and health promotion even as they differ sharply on how to reform the nation's healthcare system.

“Our nation faces epidemics of obesity and chronic diseases as well as new threats like pandemic flu and bioterrorism. Yet despite all of this, less than four cents of every health care dollar is spent on prevention and public health,” note Democrats. “The American people understand that good health is the foundation of individual achievement and economic prosperity. Ensuring quality, affordable health care for every single American is essential to children's education, workers' productivity and businesses' competitiveness. We believe that covering all is not just a moral imperative, but is necessary to making our health system workable and affordable. Doing so would end cost-shifting from the uninsured, promote prevention and wellness, stop insurance discrimination, help eliminate health care disparities, and achieve savings through competition, choice, innovation, and higher quality care.”

Republicans emphasize individual control over healthcare, using tools like health savings accounts to give consumers broader ability to choose a health insurance plan. “Chronic diseases — in many cases, preventable conditions — are driving health care costs, consuming three of every four health care dollars,” the GOP platform notes. “We can reduce demand for medical care by fostering personal responsibility within a culture of wellness, while increasing access to preventive services, including improved nutrition and breakthrough medications that keep people healthy and out of the hospital. To reduce the incidence of diabetes, cancer, heart disease, and stroke, we call for a national grassroots campaign against obesity, especially among children. We call for continuation of efforts to decrease use of tobacco, especially among the young.”

Also under the rubric of healthcare reform, the Republican Party endorsed parents' rights to consent to medical treatment for children, “including mental health treatment, drug treatment, alcohol treatment, and treatment involving pregnancy, contraceptives and abortion.”

Supply Reduction, Law Enforcement and the Justice System

The Republicans have often been perceived as the party of “law and order,” and this is evident in some of the platform language adopted in Minneapolis. “Our national experience over the past twenty years has shown that vigilance, tough yet fair prosecutors, meaningful sentences, protection of victims' rights, and limits on judicial discretion protect the innocent by keeping criminals off the streets,” the platform states.

The GOP platform endorses mandatory sentences for crimes like gang conspiracy, violent or sexual offenses against children, rape, and assaults resulting in serious bodily injury, and opposes parole for violent or repeat felons. The platform also includes a call for a crackdown on gang violence, particularly gangs comprised of members who are illegal immigrants.

“Border security is essential to national security,” the platform states. “In an age of terrorism, drug cartels, and criminal gangs, allowing millions of unidentified persons to enter and remain in this country poses grave risks to the sovereignty of the United States and the security of its people.”

The GOP also cites the danger of narcoterrorism, stating, “In an era of porous borders, the war on drugs and the war on terror have become a single enterprise” and calling for greater support of countries like Mexico and Colombia in their battle against drugs.

On the other hand, the Republican platform specifically endorses drug courts and other state and local initiatives “that are trying new approaches to curbing drug abuse and diverting first-time offenders to rehabilitation.” The party also called on government to work more closely with faith-based organizations to break the “cycle of incarceration” through diversion programs for juvenile offenders.

“The human toll of drug addiction and abuse hits all segments of American society,” according to the Republican platform. “It is an international problem as well, with most of the narcotics in this country coming from beyond our borders. We will continue the fight against producers, traffickers, and distributors of illegal substances through the collaboration of state, federal, and local law enforcement. We support the work of those who help individuals struggling with addiction, and we support strengthening drug education and prevention programs to avoid addiction.”

Democrats also pledged to “work with close partners like Mexico, Brazil, and Colombia on issues like ending the drug trade, fighting poverty and inequality, and immigration” and to a policy of being “smart on crime.”

“That means being tough on violent crime, funding strategic, and effective community policing, and holding offenders accountable, and it means getting tough on the root causes of crime by investing in successful crime prevention, including proven initiatives that get youth and nonviolent offenders back on track,” the Democratic platform states.

“We must help state, local, and tribal law enforcement work together to combat and prevent drug crime and drug and alcohol abuse, which are a blight on our communities,” the Democrats' platform stated. “We will restore funding for the Byrne Justice Assistance Grant Program and expand the use of drug courts and rehabilitation programs for first-time, nonviolent drug offenders.”

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