If Congress passes no gun control legislation in 2013, we know that at least one powerful recommendation will take place in 2014. Millions more people will gain access to mental health care treatment with the implementation of the Affordable Care Act. All sides of the gun control debate agree that access to mental health care for those most at risk for committing gun violence is crucial to reducing shootings.
Mental health care will fight poverty
Not only will millions of Americans actually be able to afford health insurance, the new plans and recent health insurance offerings must include a mental health and substance use disorder benefit. Many individual and family plans don’t even cover or recognize mental health and substance abuse treatment. This single item in the Affordable Care Act may do more to stabilize neighborhoods and communities from the destabilizing force of mental illness and substance abuse than all the other poverty fighting legislation put together.
In a research brief the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration they conclude,
47.5 million Americans lack health insurance coverage altogether,5 and 25 percent of uninsured adults have a mental health condition or substance use disorder or both.6
Download the full brief ->[download id=”48″]
The inclusion of mental health and substance abuse coverage to all health insurance plans will allow an estimated 32.1 million people to gain access to care that may have been out of their reach before.
Expanding healthcare will reduce gun violence
This could have a particularly profound effect on communities where a high percentage of families living in poverty will be enrolled in Medicaid. Early intervention is the key to addressing emerging mental health challenges in young adults. While the mass shootings grab the headlines, most gun violence occurs in our homes and on our streets. Greater access to help for mental health and substance use disorders will prevent many young people and adults from traveling down the path to gun violence.
Creating productive and sustainable families
The caveat attached to all suggestions to reduce gun violence is “It won’t prevent all shootings.” This is true also with expanded mental health care under the ACA. But it will reduce the statistics and help support families to spend fewer resources managing the damaging effects of depression, anxiety, substance abuse and a variety of other issues. One of the goals of comprehensive health care access for all is to keep individuals healthy and productive. When we help people with mental health challenges or substance abuse we are helping families become or remain sustainable.
Community based challenges
A big challenge remains on the provider side. While many hospitals and physician groups are adding staff for folks coming into the health care system with insurance, I have not read much about mental health clinics gearing up for the expansion. If we can make people aware that they can get mental health care services through their insurance, even if it isn’t necessarily free, and connect them to a clinic or small group support system, we will see some of our communities begin to heal.
Benefits will exceed the costs
The cost of the Medicaid expansion and tax credit subsidies for working families to enroll those without health insurance will not be insignificant. However, the intangible results of communities that need less police, fire, and social services because more families are whole and sustainable as a result of mental healthcare could far outweigh the government insurance expenditures. I think it is time for Democrats and Republican to embrace the Affordable Care Act and the expanded mental healthcare and substance use disorder services as a means to repair and renew our most battered communities.