PROVIDENCE, RI – In an effort to improve access to treatment for those suffering with mental illness and addiction, U.S. Senator Jack Reed joined this week with the Substance Use and Mental Health Leadership Council (SUMHLC) of Rhode Island and advocates for mental health and substance abuse services from around the state for a wide ranging forum.

Senator Reed has been a champion for increasing parity for mental health and addiction coverage.  Under the Affordable Care Act (ACA), also known as “Obamacare,” 1.3 million people with serious mental health disorders and about 2.8 million people with substance abuse disorders have gained coverage for the first time, providing them with better access to critical health services and treatment providers. 

There has been deep concern throughout the country that the Republican plan to repeal Obamacare and replace it with Trumpcare would lead to millions of vulnerable Americans losing insurance coverage and with it, access to needed treatment.  The Trumpcare plan would not only have harmed people’s ability to get mental health and addiction treatment, it would have cost Rhode Island taxpayers about $200 million annually.

“Congress needs to take action to help families and individuals struggling with mental health and addiction.  One of the steps we need to take is ending the stigma surrounding these issues, similar to the way we did for AIDS, because stigma is still a barrier to treatment and it is a barrier for investment.  Second, we have to make the case that ensuring people have access to mental health and substance abuse treatment is good for public health and it is cost effective.  Trumpcare was totally ineffective.  If it passed, it would have shifted a heavy burden to states, cost taxpayers more in the long run, and more Americans could have ended up homeless, in crisis, in jail, or in the morgue,” said Reed.  “The fact is funding for mental health and substance abuse services, particularly in the fight against the opioid epidemic, is totally inadequate.  We beat back Trumpcare for now, but it is unacceptable that we’re talking about beating back cuts at a time when we really need to increase the national investment to improve access to comprehensive substance abuse treatment.  This is about saving lives and strengthening our society.”

“When the US House of Representatives pulled the American Health Care Act from consideration on Friday March 24th, 24 million Americans and hundreds of thousands of Rhode Islanders were thankful," stated David Spencer, the President of the Substance Use and Mental Health Leadership Council of RI (SUMHLC).  He went on to indicate that “repealing the Medicaid expansion  and eliminating the essential health benefit requirement would have left millions of Americans with mental health and substance use disorders without insurance and in serious danger.  The results would have left many dying and homeless and inflicted untold  emotional and financial suffering on Rhode Island families.  Mental health and addiction should not be a partisan issue.” 

Rich Leclerc, Policy Associate for SUMHLC stated that: “There is general bipartisan consensus that the Affordable Care Act (ACA) needs improvement and needs to expand access, improve quality and make premiums more affordable.  There should still be great concern, however, that actions by the Trump Administration, without requiring Congressional approval, can still be taken to dramatically, negatively impact  the ACA.  Behavioral health providers and interested citizens need to be vigilant against elimination of subsidies to make premiums affordable, relaxation of penalties for the individual mandate  and access to medications.  These actions could sabotage the ACA and result in a self-fulfilling prophecy that the ACA does not work.”  Mr. Leclerc went to note that “since the passage of the ACA, every state saw improvement in access to healthcare for its residents.  We need to improve it not make it ineffective.” 

According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), in 2015, the five states with the highest rates of death due to drug overdose were West Virginia (41.5 per 100,000), New Hampshire (34.3 per 100,000), Kentucky (29.9 per 100,000), Ohio (29.9 per 100,000), and Rhode Island (28.2 per 100,000).

The 2016 Surgeon General Report on Alcohol, Drugs and Health found that every $1 spent on addiction treatment saves $4 in health care costs and $7 in criminal justice costs.  Additionally, the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration issued a report showing that every $1 spent on the treatment of mental illness results in $3-$5 in new economic contributions and years of healthy life.

In December, Senator Reed helped pass the 21st Century Cures Act, which President Obama signed into law.  This law directs $1 billion over the next two years to help states combat the abuse of opioids, prescription drugs, and heroin.  It also contains a key provision authored by Senator Reed to improve mental health services for young people and help prevent the tragedy of youth suicide.  Reed’s Garrett Lee Smith Memorial Act reauthorization was included in the law to help improve access to counseling for at-risk teens and promote the development of statewide strategies for suicide early intervention and prevention.  This measure will also provide federal funding for competitive grants to help states, colleges, universities, and tribes improve mental and behavioral health counseling services.  Overall, the law authorizes the federal government to award up to $43 million annually to help states and non-profit institutions prevent youth suicide.

Suicide is now the third leading cause of death for adolescents and young adults age 10 to 24 – and results in approximately 4,600 lives lost each year, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).  Additionally, the CDC reports that 157,000 young adults in this age group are treated for self-inflicted injuries annually, often as the result of a failed suicide attempt.