House Republicans on Thursday passed an updated version of the American Health Care Act, which could affect the millions of people who live with a mental health or substance-use disorder.
Analysis of the GOP bill by various organizations shows a grim outlook. Not only would people dealing with mental health conditions or drug dependency have to pay higher premiums, many may not even be covered.
And, according to experts, if Trumpcare becomes law, it may undo years of progress on behavioral health.
How the bill can affect those with mental illness and addiction
The legislation threatens to gut protections for the majority of people with pre-existing conditions, which could include mental illnesses and addiction. This means the GOP legislation could allow insurers to make coverage more costly for people with existing health issues.
Premiums are likely to skyrocket. A person around the age of 40 with a drug dependency could see increases as high as 500 percent, according to the liberal think tank Center for American Progress. Those with bipolar disorder or major depressive disorder may see a 200-percent rise in surcharges.
States would be able to get waivers that could allow insurance providers to deny coverage for certain health services, including mental health treatment and substance abuse treatment.
Additionally, the issue of Medicaid remains. Medicaid was a major problem in the first GOP version of the bill. The modified bill that passed the House cuts funding for Medicaid and trims expansion of the program. Medicaid is the single-largest payer for mental health services in the country.
What mental health advocates are saying
Experts in behavioral health and lawmakers who have been fighting for mental health awareness vehemently oppose the legislation.
“The latest version of Trumpcare doesn’t just threaten access to behavioral health coverage for those on Medicaid, it threatens access to behavioral health coverage for everyone,” Rep. Joe Kennedy (D-Mass.) wrote in an op-ed for Stat.
In an interview with HuffPost last month, Linda Rosenberg, president and CEO of the National Council for Behavioral Health, said any bill is poor policy if it threatens coverage for those with mental health issues, or doesn’t treat mental illness as seriously as physical illness.
“Mental illness is an illness like any other,” Rosenberg said. “People recover and they can live full and productive lives with effective treatment. We just have to be sure that treatment is still available in every community, just like we do for cancer and heart disease.”
Other mental health organizations, including the American Psychological Association, also expressed fear before the vote that the Republican plan will negatively affect those living with mental health disorders. Mental Health America, another advocacy group, stressed that the bill threatens the lives of people with mental health conditions.
“The passage of the AHCA, as it was amended today, is an astonishing assault on the health care of all Americans,” Paul Gionfriddo, president and CEO of Mental Health America, said in a statement.
“These effects will be felt mostly by people with chronic conditions ... They will affect people with cancer and heart disease,” Gionfriddo continued. “They will affect millions with serious mental illnesses. This is not something we can ignore or forget as we move forward. Lives are in the balance.”
Treatment is undoubtedly the most effective way to help those with mental illness and addiction ― treatment that often needs insurance coverage, just like any other health issue. Limiting access to professional support through provisions in coverage only adds to the public health issue of mental illness.