If Republicans Cared About Mental Health Care, They'd Expand Medicaid

Medicaid Expansion Would Increase Mental Health Coverage
The stakes are clear: expanding Medicaid would improve mental health in Texas.

Texas Republicans often talk about how important improving mental health care is in our state. If they really want to help, maybe they should reconsider expanding Medicaid.

Recently, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services released a report showing how expanding Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act would improve the lives of people with mental illness in states that have not yet opted for the expansion.

Some key numbers from the report include:

  • An estimated 23% of Texans ages 18-64 experienced some form of mental illness or substance abuse disorder in 2014. This percentage is even higher for the uninsured.

  • If Texas expands Medicaid coverage under the ACA, at least 406,000 Texans could directly benefit from having greater access to mental healthcare.

The stakes are clear: expanding Medicaid would improve mental health in Texas.

Here are two more key takeaways from the report:

  1. The uninsured are disproportionately vulnerable to mental health conditions

    Although nearly a quarter of uninsured Texans have mental health conditions, less than 10% of them receive treatment. Uninsured individuals cite affordability as the top reason why they did not get treatment for a mental health issue.

    The increased financial security that comes from having health insurance coverage may also reduce the risk of experiencing depression or other mental health issues associated with high stress. This means that expanding Medicaid could help prevent additional cases of mental illness as well.

  2. When mental health outcomes improve, everyone benefits

    State general funds are the top sources of funding for state mental health services apart from Medicaid itself. States that have expanded Medicaid have saved millions of dollars in mental health treatments, enabling them to reinvest that money in preventative care such as mental health screenings and early intervention treatments.

    Having access to mental healthcare for conditions such as substance abuse has also been shown to increase worker productivity and reduce the risk of homelessness. Addressing mental illness early not only improves the health outcomes of patients, but also saves the state money on treatment in the long term.

    Increased funding for mental healthcare through Medicaid can also save Texas money on criminal justice. In 2014, about 35% of Texas inmates in state correctional facilities had an official record of mental illness, and the real percentage is likely much higher due to underreporting.

    Upon release, many formerly incarcerated individuals fall into the Medicaid coverage gap and are unable to access mental health treatment. States that have expanded Medicaid have seen recidivism rates decline and are saving thousands of dollars per inmate.

To learn more about the report, check out the great coverage from the Austin American-Statesman.