The Health Care Debate: Outrageous! Take Action Now!

We like to think that Americans want to move forward not back Unfortunately, Congress is moving backwards in the current debate over health care. The House of Representatives has passed a bill—called the American Health Care Act (AHCA)that is deeply flawed and will put lives in jeopardy.

The Senate is expected to unveil its own proposal soon. It too has the potential to move the country backwards— hurting not just people with mental illness, but all of us. Now is the time to contact your Senators—even if you have contacted them before—and tell them to say “No” to reckless proposals that threaten people’s lives.

Under the House-passed bill, 23 million Americans will lose mental health coverage—including 14 million who will no longer be covered by Medicaid. This is far more than an abstract statistic. These are real people with real needs and getting the right care can be the difference from living a life filled with friends and families and being punished in solitary confinement in a jail or prison.

We know because we have people in NAMI’s membership who are getting the services they need and doing well and we have others who are experiencing outcomes that can only be described as tragic.

NAMI is the nation’s largest grassroots organization fighting for people with mental illness—individuals and families who desperately need help. They call NAMI’s HelpLine looking for hope. Right now, we’re hearing from many people filled with fear.

“I don’t want to be hospitalized again,” one man wrote us in an email. Another said that mental health services had enabled him to get and keep a job. He can’t understand why the country would want to reverse progress.

One woman said that without the right medications and support, she will have to go to a hospital emergency room when she experiences psychosis and probably be hospitalized or end up living on the street. “Why incur more expenses in ERs when we could have cheaper, easier access to care?” she asked. Medicaid expansionwhich 31 states and the District of Columbia adopted— “has given me life, literally…Without coverage, I would not be able to be a stable, participating member of society.”

In addition to cutting Medicaid, the House bill undermined essential mental health benefits under existing law. Instead of providing people with the help they need, the House bill would make mental health services optional, subject to state whims. That is unjust. No one would dare propose that treatment for cancer, diabetes or heart disease be optional.

The health care debate is about America’s vision. It’s about America’s values. Going backwards means that problems in the mental health care system that already exist today will get worse while hard-fought gains made in recent years will be lost.

NAMI is non-partisan and mental illness does not discriminate. It can strike anyone at any time—Republicans and Democrats alike. The health care debate should also be non-partisan. The bottom line should be building a health care system that provides treatment and support for those who need it most. That won’t happen under the legislation Congress is working on. Coverage will be cut. People will pay more. And costs will shift. As a society, we’ll end up paying even more in other places.

Take prisons. Every year more than 2 million people with mental illness are booked into jails where half get no treatment. The cost of jailing one person is $31,000, while providing mental health services to a person in the community would about $10,000. It doesn’t take an economist to realize the absurdity of cutting mental health care only to have to pay a greater price elsewhere.

Two years ago, I toured the Cook County Jail in Chicago, one of the nation’s largest jails. Sheriff Tom Dart is one of the nation’s most compassionate reform leaders in law enforcement today and is the first to say that the jailing of people with mental illness is heartbreaking—and an injustice. It is a crisis that should shock the conscience of Americans. And the same can be said for the health care debate.

Later this month, NAMI will hold its national convention in Washington. D.C., including a “Hill Day” when NAMI members will charge forward on Capitol Hill to voice concerns directly to their Senators and Representatives. Most people can’t travel to Washington, but they can participate virtually—RIGHT NOW. NAMI needs your help. Help pave the way for our advocates on Capitol Hill. Please contact your Senators NOW.

Please let them know that Americans need more mental health coverage, not less. Congress should improve mental health coverage, not make it worse. The Senate should say:

  • NO to cuts capping Medicaid, which will force states to ration mental health serviceseven for children and adults with the most severe mental illnesses.
  • NO to ending Medicaid expansion-a lifeline for single adults with mental illness who fall through the cracks.
  • NO to allowing plans to drop coverage of mental health and substance use or charging people higher premiums if they have a pre-existing condition, like depression.

Cutting coverage will simply keep people from getting the treatment they need and push people with mental illness into emergency rooms, jails and the streets. That’s not progress. It’s an outrage.

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