I’m one of the 43.8 million people in the United States who has a mental illness – anxiety and depression, to be specific.
I’m also one of the 20 million people who was able to get health care through the Affordable Care Act, or Obamacare. In addition to making general health coverage more accessible, that law increased access to mental health treatment for millions.
I, along with millions of others, could lose access to my insurance if the Affordable Care Act is repealed. And that would literally be bad for my mental health.
That’s exactly what would happen under the Obamacare repeal bill the House passed this summer, and under the bill the Senate’s considering now. After weeks and weeks of hearing Senate Republicans claiming the bill won’t hurt anyone, we now know that’s not true. In the scoring of the bill it released this week, the Congressional Budget Office predicted that 22 million more people would be left uninsured by 2026 should this bill pass.
The bill would deeply cut Medicaid and create a system of federally funded tax credits, less generous than the ones Obamacare provides, to help people buy private insurance.
But it would also offer states the option of allowing insurance companies to opt out of required certain benefits Obamacare requires, such as maternity care, cancer treatment and, you guessed it, mental health care. That means many of us would pay more, maybe a lot more, for plans that cover less.
Some other things the bill would do? It would defund Planned Parenthood for a year; give insurance companies the ability to charge older adults five times as much as younger people; and take away tax credits from plans that offer abortions. It would also cut taxes for the wealthy. By a lot.
And here’s the real kicker: All of this was drafted in secret.
So, who are the winners and losers if this bill is passed? The winners are pretty obvious: wealthy people and insurance companies. The losers? Pretty much everyone else, a long list that includes people who need access to mental health care. People like me.
It’s been less than a year since I first started receiving mental health treatment, but that doesn’t mean my illnesses started less than a year ago. In fact, they began to form in my early childhood and progressively got worse as I grew up.
I never reached out for help, partly because of the stigma surrounding mental health issues, but mainly because when I was finally ready to take the big step into therapy, I couldn’t: I didn’t have health insurance.
Enter Obamacare. The Affordable Care Act isn’t perfect, but it gave me and my family access to health care we otherwise would never have been able to get. It allowed my brother to receive treatment when he broke his ankle. It allowed my dad to get better when he experienced chest pains. And it finally allowed me to reach out for help and receive treatment for mental illnesses I had tucked away out of fear and embarrassment.
This is the first time I’ve been open and candid about my struggle with mental health. And I feel the need to write about it because of the danger this health care bill would spell for me and the millions of Americans struggling with mental illnesses.
In a time where mental illness is already stigmatized, access to health care should become easier, not more difficult. Unfortunately, I’m afraid the opposite will happen – that people with mental illnesses won’t get the help and care they need due to lack of insurance.