On Thursday, which happened to be National Children’s Mental Health Awareness Day, House Republicans passed legislation that could affect millions of young people who are dealing with psychological health issues.
If the American Health Care Act becomes law, people with pre-existing conditions like mental illness ― even mental illness that started in childhood ― might have to pay much more for health insurance. Additionally, states would be able to get waivers that could allow insurers to deny coverage for certain services, like mental health treatment.
Children’s health experts criticized the AHCA plan following the House’s vote on Thursday.
Mental health issues among children and teens are believed to be on the rise. Research from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention suggests that among children ages 2 to 8, 1 in 7 experiences a psychological disorder, which is classified as a mental, behavioral or development problem.
A separate report published in 2016 from the CDC found that deaths from suicide among young people are also increasing. Girls between the ages of 10 and 14 saw the greatest rise in suicide rates during a 15-year period, at an alarming 200 percent.
Treating children for behavioral health issues is complex, and often requires methods like therapy to find the best course of action. Mental illness can only be diagnosed by a medical professional, and data shows that half of all lifetime cases of mental illness begin before or around the age of 14.
”AHCA is bad policy for children and dangerous policy for our country,” the American Academy of Pediatrics said in a statement.
The treatment rates for kids with these issues are already abysmal. Only half of children and adolescents with mental health issues get professional support in a given year, according to CDC data cited by the National Institute of Mental Health.
If health coverage becomes more difficult to obtain ― as would almost certainly happen should the AHCA become law ― it would likely worsen the growing public health issue of behavioral health disorders, according to Linda Rosenberg, president and CEO of the National Council on Behavioral Health.
“The truth is simple: when we fail to fund mental health and addiction treatment services, we all pay for it,” Rosenberg said in a statement Thursday. “We pay for it in uncompensated care, increased costs to the corrections and legal system and increased disruption in the lives of individuals and families who are unable to access the care they need to live successfully in their community.”
Under the right circumstances, most mental health issues are manageable. But professional support is almost always necessary. And that often requires adequate health coverage.
Just something for the Senate to consider as this bill moves forward.
If you or someone you know needs help, call 1-800-273-8255 for the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline. You can also text HELLO to 741-741 for free, 24-hour support from the Crisis Text Line. Outside of the U.S., please visit the International Association for Suicide Prevention for a database of resources.