Thoughts on Mental Health Day, May 24

May 24, 2017 3:08 PM

Mental health affects each of us daily and is critical to our overall health. We may be having a tough day due to the stress of work or a good day because we spent time outdoors. Good mental health is a foundation for human functioning and is not simply the absence of mental illness.

Mental health issues are pervasive. Approximately one in five children and adults has a diagnosable mental health issue like depression and anxiety. Many Madison area residents are going without treatment. These rates are not simply a statistic, but impact the work our city does each day. For example, in the Madison Police Department (MPD) in 2016, 8.6 percent of the cases responded to and tracked, were related to mental health. These cases often take a significant amount of officer time. In response to the needs of our community, MPD has trained Mental Health Officers to work proactively to connect individuals to services before a crisis occurs.

In order for individuals to get services, at a minimum they must have access to health care. That access may soon be taken away from many of our residents. On May 4, the House of Representatives passed the American Health Care Act (AHCA). The ACHA would eliminate a provision of the Affordable Care Act that requires many insurance plans to cover ten essential health benefits including mental health and addiction. It would also allow states to waive out of providing certain benefits through employer-sponsored insurance and allows individuals with mental health diagnoses to be charged more for insurance. Services for mental health should not be seen as separate from our physical health, the two are inextricably linked. Poor mental health is a risk factor for chronic conditions and chronic conditions are a risk factor for poor mental health. We all need access to affordable, comprehensive health care whether we have a marketplace plan, Medicaid/BadgerCare, or employer-sponsored coverage.

The AHCA also cuts billions of dollars from Medicaid which would force states and municipalities to carry a larger financial burden or require us to ration care. Providing access to care and investing in prevention helps stop issues from developing or becoming more severe. This saves the system money with fewer calls for police services, hospitalizations, and people in crisis.

The Senate is now crafting its own health care bill. In honor of National Mental Health Month, I urge you to write to Senator Ron Johnson and Senator Tammy Baldwin and tell them to protect and expand access to health care for all Americans, including access to mental health and substance abuse. We need to ensure there are strong protections for people with pre-existing conditions, protect and strengthen Medicaid, and not allow states to define what kinds of health benefits they will provide. Our community's physical and mental well-being should be the focus of any health care reform. The people of Madison deserve to be able to keep themselves, their families, and our community healthy.

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