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Linda Rosenberg

Former President and CEO, National Council for Behavioral Health

Unite for Behavioral Health: Medicaid is not a partisan issue, it is a human issue

January 30, 2017 | Advocacy | Time for Action | Comments
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There is a new administration in town, a new dynamic in Congress and we’re all wondering what lies ahead for health care.

In a recent op-ed, New York Times columnist David Brooks called on us to move past our individual causes. “Identity politics is too small for this moment,” Brooks wrote. Brooks said of Trump’s inaugural speech, “It was a coherent vision, and he is rallying a true and fervent love of home.”

At the National Council, we have a coherent vision of accessible, affordable behavioral health care for all. We have a true and fervent love of home, and we know the way to protect and defend our love of home is to come armed with the facts.

The facts are indisputable.

The fact is: Americans with mental health and substance use disorders are the single largest beneficiaries of the Medicaid expansion.

The fact is: Medicaid expansion has already made an impact on the opioid epidemic. By covering low-income childless adults up to 138 percent of the federal poverty line, the Medicaid expansion enabled 1.29 million low-income people with substance use disorders or mental illness to gain access to coverage that is unavailable to their peers in non-expansion states.

The fact is: Repealing the Medicaid expansion jeopardizes our recent gains in treating the opioid epidemic. Researchers from Harvard and New York University estimate that repealing the Medicaid expansion would cut the $4.5 billion that is being spent each year for mental health and substance use treatment for low-income people, a cut that dwarfs last year’s investment of $500 million a year for two years in treatment for opioid addiction.

The fact is: Without treatment, people will die. People like “Sam” will once more be at risk of becoming a sad statistic.

Since he was in his teens, Sam struggled with schizophrenia. It took him to dark places – homelessness, broken relationships, 20+ years of heroin, alcohol and cocaine abuse and, finally, prison. Five times it led him to such despair that he tried to take his own life.

But Sam is a success story. Because of Medicaid, he was able to start outpatient psychiatric services for the first time at the age of 53. At a time when many look back at their glory days, Sam’s life is just beginning. Because of Medicaid, he has been sober and in residential treatment at the Salvation Army in Hyattsville, Md., since September. He has a job and is beginning to re-engage with his family.

Medicaid is not a partisan issue – it’s a human issue. The Foundation for a Healthy Kentucky reports that treatment services for substance use increased by 740 percent for Medicaid expansion beneficiaries in a 30-month period.

It’s not an income or class issue. Mortality rates for white, middle-aged men and women with no more than a high school education increased markedly between 1999 and 2013, largely because of drugs, alcohol and suicide. When upper-middle class families exhaust their resources, Medicaid covers the cost of long-term care. Sixty percent of nursing home days are paid for by Medicaid.

This not an issue for some other person or some other time. We are the ones to address this, and we haven’t a moment to lose.

That’s why the National Council is leading efforts to preserve and protect vital health care services for people with mental health and substance use conditions.

We encouraged you to join our Uniting to Protect Behavioral Health Advocacy Webinar Series, and hundreds of you responded. The next webinar is at 3 p.m. EST on Wednesday, February 1, and, once more, we invite you to join us. If you missed the first webinar, you can watch the recording here.

We urged you to call members of Congress to ask them to preserve lifesaving mental health and addiction care, and thousands of you responded, lighting up the congressional switchboard on January 17. Still want to get in on the action? Call the Congressional switchboard at 202-224-3121 and ask to be directed to your representatives’ and senators’ offices.

We implored you to write to members of Congress to ask them to help save Medicaid for millions of Americans in need, and you have been responding in droves. You can download a letter template here.

All of this was important, but we can’t stop now. We need you to help us continue to preserve access to behavioral health care. Just take these three steps:

  • Bookmark our Act NOW page.
  • Visit each week to see our latest call to action – watch for it. Be sure to check your inboxes too, you’ll be hearing from us.
  • Sharpen your pens, warm up your dialing finger and get ready to act!

Your voice truly makes a difference, and we’ll keep you updated about more opportunities to speak up and speak out.

We have a coherent vision, we’re organized and we are armed with the facts. It is time to unite for behavioral health!

Tell me what you think. And tweet your thoughts with #Unite4BH and #BH365.