Ontario NDP promises universal mental health care; estimate of $1.15B a year

By Allison Jones
THE CANADIAN PRESS

TORONTO – Ontario NDP Leader Andrea Horwath is promising universal mental health coverage if her party wins the June election, with an annual price tag of $1.15 billion.

In a campaign event Sunday, Horwath said the COVID-19 pandemic exposed how broken Ontario’s mental health system is, and people who need help shouldn’t have to worry about the cost.

“Mental health care is health care and together, we can do so much better,” she said in prepared remarks. “We can take action to fix it – so in Ontario, you’ll get mental health care with your OHIP card, not your credit card.”

While some forms of mental health treatment are covered by the province, such as treatment by a psychiatrist or by a psychologist or social worker within a hospital, services such as private psychotherapy or counselling are not.

In addition to benefits to individuals’ mental health, the NDP says its plan would save billions of dollars because community care would lessen the need for critical care, and not as much productivity would be lost in the workforce. As well, the party said businesses offering health insurance would also see savings.

“Guaranteeing mental health care without cost will relieve pressure on hospitals, emergency services and the justice system,” Horwath said in her speech.

“But most importantly, it’ll help people live their healthiest, best life.”

The plan would start with ensuring public access to psychotherapy for all Ontarians, introducing a minimum of six sessions through OHIP. As well, the NDP would fund primary care doctors, nurses, community health-care workers and social workers to be trained in cognitive behavioural therapy, to increase the number of practitioners.

An NDP government’s immediate investment in establishing universal mental health coverage would be $500 million, the party promised, and it estimated that when the plan is fully implemented in Year 4, it would be $1.15 billion annually.

They are also promising to create Mental Health Ontario, describing it as an organization to identify and report on mental health needs, develop a comprehensive wait-list for services and establish standards.

As well, the NDP said it would tackle wait-lists for children’s mental health care. It would implement a “Make Kids Count Action Plan” from the Children’s Health Coalition, which called for an investment of $130 million over three years.

That plan would build intensive treatment and specialized consultation services, increase access to psychotherapy and counselling, and increase family therapy and crisis support services.

An NDP government would also boost funding to Canadian Mental Health Association branches by eight per cent, or $24 million in 2022-23, invest $10 million more into mobile crisis services and $7 million more for safe bed programs to support mobile crisis teams.