GOP Threat to Mental Health Treatment

Leading health care stakeholders are condemning the Republican health care plan, with some expressing grave concerns about its impact on mental health treatment. The National Alliance on Mental Health (NAMI) says the Republican plan puts “millions of Americans with mental illness at risk.”

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Many major organizations immediately rejected the health care plan proposed this week by Republicans in the U.S. House of Representatives to replace the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare. Among them: the American Medical Association, the American Nurses Association, the American Hospital Association, the Association of American Medical Colleges, the Catholic Health Association of the United States, and the Children’s Hospital Association. The AARP, which represents 38 million older Americans, said: “This bill is a $200 billion giveaway to special interests like insurance and drug companies. They make out like bandits while real people are left with higher premiums and less security.”

In a letter to House Republican leaders, AMA CEO James L. Madara criticized the “potentially life altering impact your decisions will have on millions of Americans who may see their public, individual or even employer-provided health care coverage changed or eliminated.” Madara warned that changes to Medicaid could undercut state efforts to cope with increased demand for mental health and substance abuse treatment as a result of the ongoing crisis of opioid abuse and addiction. (An estimated 1.3 million Americans receive treatment for mental health and substance abuse disorders covered by Medicaid’s expansion under Obamacare.)

ANA President Pamela F. Cipriano also complained that the Republican plan would eliminate the Prevention and Public Health Fund and cut off critical coverage for millions of Americans with mental health and substance-use disorders.

Here’s NAMI’s statement about the Republican plan’s threat to mental health treatment:

The American Health Care Act (AHCA) would reduce funding for health coverage—from insurance plans to Medicaid—and put mental health care at risk. It caps Medicaid funding, which will lead to deep cuts and jeopardize mental health services.

Congress shouldn’t put millions of Americans with mental illness at risk. Cutting corners in health coverage will keep people from getting the treatment they need and will push people with mental illness into costly emergency rooms, hospitals and jails.

Investing early in affordable, quality mental health care promotes recovery and saves taxpayer dollars in the long term by avoiding disability, criminal justice involvement and frequent hospital stays.

Here are the provisions NAMI says will harm people with mental illness:

Individual and Small Group Health Insurance

Current federal help to buy health insurance would be reduced, leaving millions of people, including people with mental illness, unable to afford mental health care.

Traditional Medicaid

Traditional Medicaid would be converted to a “per capita cap” system, which means states would get a fixed amount of federal funding per person. Instead of flexibility, this would lead to deep cuts over time and jeopardize mental health services.

Federal Medicaid funding would be frozen at current levels, adjusted for inflation. Funding for mental health and substance use services is already inadequate and could not be improved without cutting other needed health care.

Medicaid Expansion

Nearly 1 out of 3 people covered by Medicaid expansion live with a mental health or substance use condition. This bill would end new enrollment in 2020, leaving people with mental health and substance use conditions without the Medicaid services they need to stay in school, on the job and in recovery.

Medicaid expansion plans would no longer have to cover mental health and substance use care, abandoning Congress’ commitment to mental health and substance use coverage.

People covered by Medicaid expansion before 2020 would be dropped from their plan if they have a lapse of coverage of more than a month. For people with mental illness, this is a high price to pay for forgetting to pay a premium while someone is in the hospital or experiencing severe symptoms.

NAMI says that one in five Americans experiences a mental health condition, but only half get needed treatment. It argues that coverage for mental health care helps people get treatment when they need it, helping them to stay in school, on the job and in recovery.

Starting the Conversation

Talk to each other… it may save a life…

“Starting the Conversation” is an excellent new guide helping students (and parents) to learn about mental health conditions and signs that need serious attention—and how to talk about them. One in five students will experience a mental health condition in college.

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The guide explains why it is so important to have conversations and create awareness—including among students and their parents.

“Conversations allow you to plan for the unexpected; to know what to do if you develop emotional distress, a mental health condition or if an existing condition worsens. Talking about mental health is important even if you don’t experience a mental health condition because a friend may need help. Students often prefer to confide in a friend before confiding in anyone else—or you may notice that a peer is struggling and you may be able to assist. By learning more, you’ll be better equipped to know what to do if you or a friend is in distress.”

Click here to download “Starting the Conversation.” It was released yesterday for the start of National Suicide Prevention Awareness Month 2016 by the National Alliance on Mental Health (NAMI) and The Jed Foundation.

Here’s a sample:

STRESSORS THAT MAY AFFECT MENTAL HEALTH

Relationship breakups

Academic pressures

Poor grades

Financial stress

Social status pressures

Feeling alone or homesick

Feeling marginalized, misunderstood or like you don’t fit in

Concern or worry about your family members at home

Loss of day-to-day family or community support

Drug and alcohol use

Inadequate sleep

Feeling overwhelmed

Grief

Gender and sexuality questioning

Friendship challenges

Sports team losses

Unmet expectations

Read TIME magazine’s report this week on the “Starting the Conversation” guide.

Active Minds is a student organization with branches on college campuses throughout the USA and Canada devoted to “changing the conversation about mental health.” Active Minds is promoting awareness activities this month: click here to read their guide for getting involved.

For parents, a good video to watch is Not My Kid: What Every Parent Should Know. The video was produced by the Society for the Prevention of Teen Suicide.