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Guest opinion: Our legislators must understand mental health better

Deseret News - 5/10/2019

I work part time for Salt Lake Community College. Because I don’t meet the threshold for benefits, I don’t have access to health insurance through my employer. I also don’t make enough to pay for insurance in the private sector, and I haven’t been able to afford a plan on the ACA marketplace in the past. Fortunately, I just applied for Medicaid under the state’s recent expansion, and if things go well, I should qualify. I am so glad that the state chose to provide coverage to more low-income Utahns, but I’m worried that a lot of folks are going to be left out.

My adult son has severe PTSD and depression, and though he should qualify for Medicaid under the expansion, we are worried that he won’t be able to meet a work reporting requirement. We’re stuck between a rock and a hard place because he can’t work enough to support himself, but he also may not be granted an exemption from the requirement. Doctors sometimes don’t know how to deal with someone who is suffering from PTSD, and the paperwork that would be required to apply for an exemption would just force him to relive the situations that are causing his problem in the first place. I don’t want him to be forced to go through this.

I’ve been trying for four years to get my son onto disability insurance, but this process takes a long time, and I’m still waiting. I don’t know if he’ll be approved. He had Medicaid once before, when he was put on suicide watch at the hospital. We were able to find a doctor who could help him at the time, but the Medicaid coverage was temporary, and now he’s right back where he started. He’s gone without care for a while now, but we’re reapplying for Medicaid, and we’re hopeful that he’ll get the help he needs.

In my opinion, the policies our legislators are supporting lead me to believe that they don’t understand mental illness. They don’t understand that some individuals can’t work for reasons that aren’t readily apparent, and they don’t understand that health care is a prerequisite to employment for many of these people. In our case, my son won’t be able to afford his treatments without an exemption to the work reporting requirement. Without treatment, his mental health will continue to deteriorate. If we could just get the treatment that he needs, he would have a much better chance of getting to a place where he’s healthy enough to hold a job. Right now, I don’t know what to expect when I get home from work because of his mental state. It scares me.

Legislators need to make it easier for folks who are suffering from debilitating mental and physical ailments to get health care. So many people with mental illnesses can’t navigate the system on their own, and without an advocate, these people go without care. In some cases, they don’t survive. I’m holding my breath that our legislators make the right decision — and do away with the changes they want to make to the Medicaid program, like work requirements — before it’s too late.

CREDIT: Mary Ann Ericksen, Deseret News


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