Health Care Debate: Outrageous! Take Action Now!

JUN. 09, 2017

By Mary Giliberti, J.D.


We’d 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—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, but it also 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’ve contacted them before!) and tell them to say no to reckless proposals that threaten people’s lives.

Under the House’s AHCA 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. Getting these individuals the right care can be the difference from living a life filled with friends and family and a life spent locked in solitary confinement.


NAMI is the nation’s largest grassroots organization fighting for people with mental illness—individuals and families who desperately need help. They call the NAMI 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 likely have to go to a emergency room when she experiences psychosis and 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 expansion—which 31 states and the District of Columbia have adopted—“has given me life, literally…Without coverage, I would not be a stable, participating member of society.”

In addition to cutting Medicaid, the House bill undermines 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. That is unjust. No one would dare propose that treatment for cancer, diabetes or heart disease be optional.

This 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 exist today will get worse while hard-fought gains made in recent years will be lost.

NAMI is non-partisan because mental illness doesn’t discriminate. It can strike anyone at any time—Republicans and Democrats alike. The health care debate should also be non-partisan. And the goal should be building a health care system that offers treatment and support for those who need it most.

But 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 more in other places. Take prisons: Every year, more than 2 million people with mental illness are locked into jails where half get no treatment. The cost of jailing one person is $31,000, compared to the cost of providing mental health services to a person in the community, which 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 says that the jailing of people with mental illness is heartbreaking and an injustice. Further: It is a crisis that should shock the conscience of Americans. The same can be said for the health care debate.


Later this month, NAMI will hold our National Convention in Washington, D.C., including a “Hill Day” when NAMI members will charge forward on Capitol Hill to voice concerns directly to Senators and Representatives. Most NAMI members won’t be able to travel to Washington, but they can take part virtually right now.

Please let your Senators 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 services—even 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.


JUL, 03, 2017 03:32:38 PM
Theses people are lucky that they do not live in Illinois because the care for a Mental Health person is bad,bad, bad. My daughter has been in & transferred to 11 different nursing homes in 1 year and Hospitalized 32x's in less then 24 months. Given meds that she cannot take in spite of my giving them Her Complete Medical info. Made to sign Legal Papers without glasses of which she wears all the time. Not given Glaucoma Meds for over a year because her Medical records Do Not Follow them from place to place to place. I had to search the Doctor to get the eye script in order to make-up the glasses which cost $200 & were sent to her less then 5 days.Note Medicaid still has not sent her glasses wihich were ordered in March,2017 & this is July! I was tired of repeately requesting that she see an eye doctor which took over several months because she was without glasses for over 10 months. Picture this having Behavioral Health Issues & not being able to see!!!Not to mention the total stole/lose of personal items from these nursing homes. My question is why Illinois is not spending the monies are total Medical Evaulation verses the monies on all these hospitals,nursing homes,medical transport,ER's, wasted Medications & hundreds of Doctors who do not care because if they did she would be doing better not worse. I just found out that she was under the care of a Dr. Michael Reinstein at Westwood Manor,Chicago & St.Mary's Hospital,Nowerign Hospital was arrested by the FBI- article in the Chicago Tribune. Isn't it strange that all her hospitalizations & relapses happen during before & after this event of Dr. Reinstein being in his care! One of the big problems is that Mental Health persons are wear housed in Nursing Homes which are not specialists in Mental Health & give these people no reason to move on to have a better life. NAMI needs to take surveys on the care of persons in Nusing Homes from Care Givers & Loved Ones! The HIPPA Law needs to be fixed because it is hurting Mental Heath Persons in many ways !

JUN, 17, 2017 10:52:24 AM
Eric Kunish
This is a great article that I will use to write my senators, again! It is such a tragedy that in December 2016, the Cures Act passed near unanimously and looked like the greatest advance for mental health in 50 years. And in contrast, the AHCA may take us backward. For some the rhetoric for seven years was the ACA was bad health care and could be done better. Now when we finally see what some thought was better, it is definitely not. Our country can do better in mental health and health in general, for everyone!

JUN, 12, 2017 10:12:57 AM
pete floyd
When is it scheduled to go before the senate?

JUN, 11, 2017 08:30:02 PM
Eva Falcone Spencer
How much longer do the victims have to wait before the attackers receive treatment once and for all!?

JUN, 10, 2017 09:35:37 AM
Elizabeth Willard
Great a newly retired senior I do worry about the direction this country is going in regarding health care.

JUN, 09, 2017 02:27:38 PM
Jan Cowan
Quit going backwards in time.

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