Plan to “Decimate” Mental Health Care

Leading mental health advocates are strongly condemning the Senate Republican health care bill proposed on June 22 for cutting Medicaid programs that provide vital lifelines to Americans struggling with mental illness.

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The criticism follows the harsh reaction voiced earlier this year to the American Health Care Act proposed by House Republicans to replace the Obama administration’s Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, or Obamacare.

The National Alliance on Mental Illness, the nation’s largest grassroots mental health organization, said this week that the Senate Republicans’ Better Care Reconciliation Act “will slash Medicaid benefits for critical mental health services millions of Americans need to lead productive lives. NAMI opposes this effort to decimate our nation’s already struggling mental health system.”

NAMI explained the importance of Medicaid to mental health care:

“Medicaid is the largest source of funding for public mental health services in our nation. One-third of people covered by Medicaid expansion lives with a mental health or substance use condition and Medicaid serves as a lifeline for people with mental illness who typically fall through the cracks. It provides critical coverage so people have access and receive the mental health treatment they need to finish school, get back to work and contribute to their communities.”

NAMI said that the Senate and House proposals to convert Medicaid to a “per capita cap” for states will result in “devastating cuts to mental health services.”

“NAMI is deeply concerned that the Better Care Reconciliation Act will force people with mental illness out of the health care coverage they need and on to the streets and into costly emergency rooms, hospitals and jails. We encourage Senators to reject this harmful bill, and instead, ensure that Americans have receive the mental health care they need to lead healthy and productive lives.”

Paul Gionfriddo, president and CEO of Mental Health America, echoed NAMI’s concerns. He said the Senate Republican legislation would “do significant harm to people with all chronic conditions, including mental illnesses.” He said the proposal “replaces much of both the core and expanded Medicaid program—lifelines to people with serious and persistent mental illnesses.”

Gionfriddo called for changes to Obamacare to be made “in the context of rational health policy. We would all be well served if Congress were to go back to the drawing board and get this right. Too many lives depend on it.”

Similar to the House legislation, the Senate version would cut health care coverage to 22 million people, according to the Congressional Budget Office. “Repealing and replacing” Obamacare was a major campaign promise made by President Donald Trump. Trump’s Republican Party controls both houses of Congress.

NAMI is organizing a “Virtual Hill Day” on Thursday June 29 to lobby Congress against cuts in mental health coverage, demanding: “We need more mental health care, not less.”

The organization says that 1,000 mental health advocates will meet face-to-face with members of Congress; it encourages others to voice their opposition to cuts by phoning, emailing, or tweeting at their congressional representatives.