Start by expanding Medicaid coverage, a benefit that is 90 percent paid for by the federal government but which certain GOP-led states have refused, chiefly because the expansion was part of President Barack Obama’s Affordable Care Act and therefore must be resisted. If all 50 states expanded Medicaid by 2020, as a recent study found, the nation’s health centers would accrue nearly $230 million more in revenue, providing more than $11 million for mental health services, a boost that translates into more than 70,000 paying patients seen.
Here’s another: Get the mentally ill out of prison where they don’t belong and aren’t getting proper medical care. Comedian John Oliver made that point forcefully on his HBO show this week, and he’s right: America’s jails and prisons have become de facto warehouses for an estimated 2 million mentally ill people. One Justice Department study estimates that 15 percent to 24 percent of inmates could be diagnosed as psychotic. The costly problem translates into hundreds of thousands of people clogging up the criminal justice system. Correcting the horrific situation might start with training more police to deal with the mentally ill in a less hostile, more helpful manner.
And another: Support greater parity for mental health care. Even states that have parity laws now are often falling woefully short. Diagnosed with diabetes? You qualify for long-term care. Diagnosed with depression? You may find severe restrictions on who you can see, how often and what care can be prescribed. The bottom line is that all these services cost money. Will the same conservative lawmakers who resist gun control measures support either the health insurance mandates or the government dollars that would make them possible?