Editorial: Mentally ill will be even worse off under GOP health bill

The Republicans’ health care proposal would make things even worse for Americans suffering from mental illness.
The Republicans’ health care proposal would make things even worse for Americans suffering from mental illness. MCT

There are so few services for those suffering from a serious mental illness that thousands of Missourians in that situation now live in nursing homes intended for geriatric patients, The Star reported this week.

In both Missouri and Kansas, state psychiatric hospitals have only enough room for those facing criminal charges. Underfunded community health centers can’t begin to keep up with demand, so many young people are winding up in nursing homes. There and in prison, as has long been the case.

Yet if anything resembling the “American Health Care Act” — George Orwell would love that name — becomes law, such patients and their families will be even worse off.

First, anyone with a mental illness or addiction would almost certainly have to pay a substantially higher premium under the current version of the Republican bill than under the Affordable Care Act, which did not allow insurers to charge more for coverage of those with a pre-existing condition.

Then, there’s the whole issue of Medicaid, which is the largest insurer of mental health services in the country. Enrollees with a serious mental illness or substance abuse diagnosis accounted for almost half of all Medicaid expenditures in 2011. Do we need to say that cutting the funding for treatment only increases the cost — in hospitals, prisons and nursing homes, as well as in lost productivity and lost lives? Rhetorical question.

In the 32 states that expanded Medicaid under Obamacare, people with a serious mental illness will lose coverage altogether. In Missouri and Kansas, patients won’t lose what they never had.

But here, as across the country, both cuts in Medicaid and skyrocketing premiums for those with pre-existing conditions will mean more seriously mentally ill people without any meaningful treatment.

And then there are the equally troubling reports about plans to kill the office that oversees federal policy on addiction. The Trump administration swears it’s taking the opioid epidemic seriously — and all the grieving parents of young people who’ve died of heroin overdoses who showed up at his campaign rallies certainly have every right to expect that.

So why do we see a proposal that would cut funding for the Office of National Drug Control Policy by 95 percent? That plan has not been finalized, White House Chief of Staff Reince Priebus said. But he didn’t make it sound like that would never happen, either: “We have duplicative services in this regard all over the place.”

What we have all over the place are sick people with nowhere to turn, and public servants whose complacency knows no bounds.