Mental health advocates fear ACA repeal will reduce access for addiction treatment

A woman identified as Tamika S.

A woman identified as Tamika S.

Psychiatrists and mental health advocates are worried that repealing the Affordable Care Act will reverse progress on mental health and addiction treatment.

Several aspects of the Affordable care act affected access to mental health and addiction treatment. The law mandated that insurance companies cover people with pre-existing conditions — like a substance abuse disorder or a mental illness. And it expanded Medicaid which meant more people were able to get health insurance.

Rachel Garfield, a senior researcher at the Kaiser Family Foundation said if politicians rolled back that Medicaid expansion, chances are, more people would no longer be able to afford mental health care.

“It is very likely that people would fall out of treatment, that the costs would be prohibitive to them, that they would lose their connection with their provider,” she said.

  • WHYY thanks our sponsors — become a WHYY sponsor

As for pre-existing conditions, Garfield said that there’s a lot of support for keeping that alive. But, she added, “The requirement that insurers cover everyone with pre-existing conditions was accompanied by a requirement that all people purchase coverage.”

If more healthy people just stop buying coverage, the pool of people with insurance would be skewed to those who need more care and cost more, she said.

With the worsening opioid crisis, some addiction treatment providers are wary about losing ground.

Doug Tieman, the CEO of Caron Treatment Centers, which does not accept insurance except in some, unique cases, said the ACA is a good first step when it comes to addiction treatment, but there’s still much to be done.

“There’s always a concern that if that modest gain is somehow taken away without an attractive alternative, that going backwards is always a bad thing when you are significantly underfunded to begin with.”

He said he’s heartened that there seems to be bipartisan support in Washington for fighting the opioid epidemic.

WHYY is your source for fact-based, in-depth journalism and information. As a nonprofit organization, we rely on financial support from readers like you. Please give today.

Want a digest of WHYY’s programs, events & stories? Sign up for our weekly newsletter.

Together we can reach 100% of WHYY’s fiscal year goal