House Republicans earlier this month passed a health care bill that would be a disaster for American families. It would take away health insurance for 24 million people, gut Medicaid funding to the tune of $880 billion per year and raise insurance costs by as much as 20 percent. It also would devastate the lives and well-being of the one in five Americans who suffer from mental health or substance use disorders.
As mayor of the city of Bangor, I want to say this clearly: We must protect mental health and substance use disorder care coverage at all costs. We must give a voice to the voiceless and start taking mental health as seriously as we take physical health. That is why I joined Cities Thrive, a national coalition of 155 of our nation’s mayors from all 50 states devoted to advancing mental health reform at the local and national levels.
Seven years after President Barack Obama signed the Affordable Care Act into law, we can see how much it has helped working families. Obamacare, as some call it, requires insurers to cover mental health care as an essential treatment. It expands the number of people covered by Medicaid, the largest funder of mental health services in the United States. Today, more than 20,000 Mainers struggling with a mental illness or substance use disorder receive treatment as a result of Obamacare.
The American Health Care Act, however, would roll back the clock on all the good Obamacare is doing. States would be allowed to seek waivers under the law to allow insurers to eliminate coverage for services such as mental health and addiction treatments. Mental health coverage would no longer be considered an essential health benefit under Medicaid. The bill also would gut protections for the more than 590,000 Mainers under age 64 who have a pre-existing condition.
What does that mean for the people of Bangor? It means hospitals and health care providers in Bangor will see a $61 million cut in revenue and at least 1,000 Bangor residents would see their health insurance terminated. It means seniors will be forced to choose between buying food or seeking treatment for a debilitating illnesses. It means people getting sicker, not healthier. As a city, we already see too many in jails, shelters and hospitals who could have avoided those places if they had just gotten treatment.
This nation is already in the middle of a drug-overdose epidemic during which deaths from heroin overdoses have surpassed gun homicides for the first time. Imagine how much worse things will get if we eliminate drug treatment coverage for tens of millions of people?
The American Health Care Act would drag us back to the failed policies of the past and leave millions struggling with mental health and substance use disorders without hope. But we still have hope. We don’t need to be afraid. We need to get organized and take action. The House bill is now in the U.S. Senate, and we need to tell our senators just what we think.
We all can pick up the phone and call our elected representatives to tell them what we think. U.S. Sen. Susan Collins’ office at the federal building in Bangor can be reached at 945-0417, and U.S. Sen. Angus King’s office, also at the federal building in Bangor, can be reached at 945-8000.
Together, we can send a message that there’s no health without mental health and demand that the American Health Care Act is an unacceptable alternative.
Joe Baldacci is the chairman of the Bangor City Council.