By Paul Gionfriddo, MHA President and CEO
Last week, we tweeted that we should vote as if our mental health depended on it. In the aftermath of this election, it is clear that we did.
Today, the major take-home lesson of yesterday’s election is this: it was mostly about healthcare after all.
The exit polls and the last two weeks of the election underscored this. As voters were making up their minds about their vote, the issue of top importance wasn’t the strong economy or the falling stock market. It wasn’t the caravan. It wasn’t taxes.
It was – once again – healthcare. And the healthcare issue that got the most attention was guaranteeing everyone affordable healthcare no matter what their pre-existing condition.
Coverage for pre-existing conditions matters to everyone. But it matters more to people with chronic mental health conditions. And our constituency is a growing one. More people than ever before are talking about their own mental health. More people than ever before are connecting their mental health to their overall health and well-being. And more advocates are working together to make certain that our voices are heard.
Two years ago, Mental Health America (MHA) played a big role in changing the debate in Congress when we and others insisted that new mental health policies be included in the 21st Century Cures Act. And we all won.
This year, we helped change the debate during the campaign when we elevated the healthcare debate to the top of the election agenda. And it was clear that for us, this was a wave election, in which scores of legislators in both parties committed to preserving the gains of the Affordable Care Act.
Even the President caught onto this issue during the campaign’s closing days, promising that he would support the continuation of comprehensive coverage for pre-existing conditions.
So, now there’s an opportunity to move forward, despite divided rule.
In two years, we will have another opportunity to judge the results of this President and a new Congress. Here are the seven key initiatives on which they will be judged:
- Will they truly protect healthcare coverage for people with pre-existing conditions, or will some try to undermine this again?
- Will they insist that we treat and cover mental health conditions at parity with other health conditions, or ignore the hard work to implement parity at the state and federal level?
- Will they work to lower insurance costs without gutting coverage for essential conditions, or will some continue to push stripped down plans will low coverage and high costs?
- Will they agree to further expansions of the Medicaid program, or will some states continue to leave adults with serious mental health conditions literally out on the streets?
- Will they help fund training for more mental health professionals, including psychiatrists, psychologists, nurses, clinical social workers, and peers so that every county will have at least one mental health professional offering services, or will they continue to leave mostly rural counties without the resources they need?
- Will they include more mental health screening in their proposals to identify children and adults with mental health needs earlier, just like we do with every other condition, or will they fail again to address flaws in the IDEA that make it so difficult for our kids to get the special education services to which they are legally entitled?
- Will we stop throwing people into courtrooms and jails solely on the basis of their mental health conditions, or will we finally stop wasting taxpayer dollars in a custodial care system that offers little hope for recovery and change?
These are things we at Mental Health America believe that the President and the Congress can do together in the coming two years to make a real difference in the lives of millions of people with mental health conditions – including members of their own families and social circles.
It shouldn’t be hard for them.
And we’re here to help.
In the coming weeks, we will be reaching out to key leaders in both parties at the federal and state levels to ask them to sponsor and support our agenda.
It’s just too important to ignore. Because we matter, and the people we represent also matter – especially the remarkable people who live with mental health conditions, who work and go to school and achieve great things in spite of them, and who move along pathways to recovery every single day. Let’s invest in them.
It is always good to get an election behind us and reset the deck. This time, we’re holding some pretty impressive cards – because this time, so many of us voted.