Amy Klobuchar outlines mental illness, addiction plan in Iowa City

U.S. Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D- Minn., made a presidential campaign stop in Iowa City Saturday to discuss her latest policy proposal with local politicians and mental-health advocates in a panel discussion.


Megan Nagorzanski

Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn., visited Iowa City Saturday, where she honed in on her mental-health and substance-abuse plans.

Emily Wangen, Politics Editor

U.S. Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn., spoke in Iowa City Saturday about her newly released plan to expand access to mental health care and addiction services. She discussed this during a panel discussion with area Legislators and mental health advocates attended by approximately 30 people at the Iowa City Public Library.

Her policy proposal, which includes increasing funding for early-intervention programs and suicide prevention programs, was published online Friday. Klobuchar said the policy would begin with substance-abuse prevention with measures like prescription monitoring and early intervention for mental illness and addiction through training and awareness campaigns.The second part calls for an increase in mental health beds and personnel.

With a $100 billion price tag, Klobuchar said she plans to fund this proposal through a two-cent fee on each milligram of active opioid ingredient in a prescription pain pill, paid by manufacturers or importers, and creating a Master Settlement Agreement. She noted that these two pieces are estimated to bring in 80 percent of the total cost.

“I actually don’t think you guys should be paying for it,” Klobuchar told a packed crowd of more than 150 people at a meet and greet event at The Mill later in the afternoon. “I think that we should be paying for it from the people that caused this epidemic.”

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Klobuchar said her policy came from hearing stories of people having family members who deal with addiction and mental illness alongside her own experiences, noting her father, who is 91 years old, struggled with alcoholism while she was growing up before getting treatment after being faced with the choice of jail or treatment for his third time being picked up for driving while intoxicated.

The group also discussed mental health care shortfalls in the state. Panelists pointed to the privatization of Medicaid services in Iowa, which took place in 2015 under former Gov. Terry Branstad, as contributing to the state’s low rankings in psychiatric hospital beds and providers.

A May 2018 report from the state Human Services dept. reported that Iowa has 26 hospitals and two state mental health institutes with inpatient psychiatric beds spread out across 20 counties.

“Providers aren’t being paid — it’s threatening rural hospitals,” one panelist, Sen. Joe Bolkcom, D-Iowa City, said during the discussion. “We really need to look at privatization across the country, it’s been this thing that has swept across the nation.”

He also thanked Klobuchar for her proposal, noting he believes it takes a comprehensive approach to this issue.

“There’s not a family in this country that’s not affected by mental-health or substance-abuse issues,” Bolkcom said.

Another panelist, Sen. Molly Donahue, D-Cedar Rapids, said in her 29 years as a special education teacher, she saw the lack of mental health resources in public schools firsthand and called for the addition of licensed counselors in schools.

“As a teacher I’m considered a behavioral specialist, but what I’m doing is just kind of helping them get some coping skills to make it through the day,” Donahue said. “I’m not a doctor, I can’t help in that way nor can any of my coworkers who do the same job, and there are a lot of us, but we aren’t enough.”

RELATED: 2020 candidate Amy Klobuchar in eastern Iowa: bring together ‘fractured’ communities

This is Klobuchar’s sixth visit to Iowa since announcing her campaign for president. She last visited Iowa in March where she made stops in Waterloo, Dubuque, Independence, Cedar Rapids, and Davenport where she spoke about investing in infrastructure, strengthening antitrust laws, and touted her bipartisan legislative record in the Senate.

Klobuchar was first elected to the Senate in 2006 where she became Minnesota’s first female U.S. Senator and serves on a multitude of committees, most notably the Senate Judiciary Committee and the Rules and Administration Committee. Prior to that she served as the Hennepin County county attorney. She announced her bid for the White House on Feb. 10 during a rally on Minneapolis’ Boom Island.

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