The GOP Healthcare Bill Could Destroy Mental Health Coverage

A recent tweet from Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders sums up most  people’s feelings about the GOP health care bill, called the American Health Care Act (AHCA), that passed in the House last Thursday, May 4:

By this point, we are likely all acutely aware of some of the problematic policies that the bill, which will limit care for those with pre-existing conditions while also slashing Medicaid funding. Even after deciding to rewrite the bill after major backlash and the subsequent fear of it not surviving the Senate vote, the GOP does not fail to disappoint. There are no females helping to draft the Senate version of the bill, and the pervasive argument about the immorality of supporting the plan— that many Republicans are more concerned with decreasing taxes for the richest among us than with providing universal health care — is still a major concern.

With the new AHCA projected to be finished before too long, it is essential that we start paying attention to yet another problem it will likely pose: the complete erasure of mental health care. The original Trumpcare plan would have removed the care that the Affordable Care Act provides, and it won’t be surprising if the new one follows suit.

That would be, to say the least, extremely dangerous. Here’s why.

The Affordable Care Act, while flawed in some respects, does currently offer protection for the Americans who will grapple with a mental illness in their lifetimes. The ACA and Medicare cover behavioral health and substance abuse treatments and services, as well as preventative services such as screenings for certain disorders in both adults and children. As of 2014, the ACA also mandated that health-insurance plans could not deny coverage or charge patients more due to a pre-existing condition, including a mental illness. This is, of course, wonderful, but the ACA does more than that. When a country includes mental health services as a part of its healthcare policy, it acknowledges mental illnesses as “real” conditions that warrants proper coverage and treatment. This integration of mental health care within the “normal” systems allows us to establish a standard of care nationwide and suggests that receiving treatment for such a disease is just as common and worthy as receiving treatment for a physical illness or injury.

In that regard, the ACA takes one small step towards dissolving stigma against those who struggle with mental illness. Removing stigma from the complex equation of mental illness treatment would ultimately shatter one of the most formidable barriers to adequate care, indirectly changing and saving the lives of those who may feel discrimination or shame as a result of society’s view of those with these illnesses. The ACA’s inclusion of mental health services is a start for sure, but unsurprisingly, the GOP will likely not bring itself to continue the progress.

By repealing the Affordable Care Act and attacking Medicaid, the “Trumpcare” plan threatens those who rely on the coverage provided, especially those who utilize substance abuse services. Not only could it be life-threatening to deny treatments for these conditions, the lack of addiction treatment coverage would also feed into society’s idea of addicts as criminals who are better incarcerated than rehabilitated. As a country that consistently struggles with the criminalization of mental illness, this is not something we can allow to persist.

There is some hope to be found, however. Some Republicans have even expressed their opposing views on the plan, including Ohio Governor John Kasich, who reminds us that “phasing out Medicaid coverage without a viable alternative is counterproductive and unnecessarily puts at risk our ability to treat the drug-addicted, mentally ill, and working poor who now have access to a stable source of care.”

If the American Health Care Act becomes our reality, then the Senate will be forever guilty of voting to regress in more ways than one. We can only hope that we will not become a country with a “healthcare” system based on robbing citizens of their human right to health and security.



  1. Thoughtful and very well written! Thanks for pointing out that zero females are involved in the Senate draft – important information. Further, it’s of interest that many (I count 18) female House republicans voted in favor of the bill on May 4 (; it would be cool to interview one of them on her reasoning. I appreciate the focus of this article on mental health and the importance to remove stigma and treat these illnesses as such; education is the key!! Can’t wait to read more!

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