Thanks to a report from the American Mental Health Counselors Association, North Carolina along with other states that have not expanded Medicaid have yet another feather to place in their caps – denying access to mental health care for nearly 600,000 uninsured adults that would have sought care last year. Approximately 21,000 of those uninsured adults reside in NC. Even before the debate over Medicaid expansion began, there was the Mental Health Parity and Addiction Equity Act, which has produced a slow push to lessen the gap between how people access and utilize physical and mental health care. Even with mental health parity, over 50 percent of adults with a mental illness did not receive mental health care in NC between 2009-2013. Failing to extend health coverage to individuals with mental illness through expanding Medicaid only increases barriers to treatment, which in turn creates social, physical, and economic burdens to those with mental illness, their families and even their communities.
On the individual level, people living with mental illness are more likely to have other physical chronic conditions, have shorter life expectancies, are poor, and have difficulty finding employment. Students with mental illness, especially those who receive special education, experience school failure and drop out more frequently than other students including students in other disability groups . Without affordable mental health treatment, people with mental illness do not receive preventative treatment and thus rely on costly emergency room visits or even end up in jail.
The families of individuals with mental illness also face burdens as they become caregivers and help pay for expensive out-of-pocket mental health treatment. Unfortunately, the impact on communities resulting from traumatic events like Sandy Hook and Newtown have become too familiar that even the NRA supports policy to enhance the mental health system. On the broader economic level, the National Alliance on Mental Illness reports that the US loses $193.2 billion annually due to lost earnings associated with the sequelae of mental illness.
Treatment received from the public mental health system is especially important as people with mental illness live closer to the poverty line and have unstable employment status. For adults between ages 21 and 64 years that received mental health treatment from the public mental health system, 75 percent were unemployed. For all adults over age 18 that received treatment in the public mental health system, 76 percent reported improved functioning as a result of care. The statistics on employment and mental health may lead some to believe that expanding Medicaid will act as another “handout,” but most adults with mental illness want to work, but lack support to maintain employment. Further, some jobs obtained by adults with mental illness may not offer health care coverage or pay enough to cover out-of-pocket costs. Last year, in states that expanded Medicaid, there were nearly 350,000 fewer people that experienced Major Depression. Hopefully NC legislators will help decrease the burden of untreated mental illness by increasing mental health parity through Medicaid expansion.