How Expanding Health Coverage will Help Address Our State’s Mental Health Needs

When Texans with mental health concerns receive help, our communities, families and businesses all benefit. That's why it has been great to see our legislature improve public investments in mental health during the 83rd Legislative Session. Funding our public mental health system is a real step forward, but it is only part of the solution when another important opportunity exists. Our state legislature had a chance to address perhaps the biggest barrier to wellness for hundreds of thousands of Texans with mental health concerns: a lack of health insurance that keeps them from getting the treatment and services they need. Our state could have produced a plan to accept federal dollars for about 1 million uninsured Texans, so that they would have a health insurance option. Unfortunately, this never happened and politics were placed over people.

Whole communities will benefit if we develop a solution to cover more Texans with available federal dollars. Right now, unmet mental health needs cost Texas businesses an estimated $270 billion in lost revenue each year. The public spends another $13 billion addressing mental illness and substance abuse. Access to ongoing treatment and services make all the difference in whether Texans with unmet mental health needs succeed at work, in school and in the community.

Rejecting the funds altogether will only put more pressure on our state funded systems. A vast majority of uninsured Texans who use our public behavioral health system for mental health and substance abuse services would be covered if Texas were to accept these federal funds next year. It is the efficient and right choice for our state, and the governor should make sure this is addressed before the year’s end.

New research shows the key role of coverage in mental health. In Oregon, an unusual circumstance led to a lottery system where some, but not all, uninsured people could get covered through Medicaid. When researchers compared the groups with and without coverage, they found the population that had health insurance had a 30 percent lower rate of depression than the uninsured group. That real and sizable improvement followed better access to health care.

It isn't too late for a solution, but with every month after December that we stall, lives and dollars are lost. Let's not make Texans wait and make our public mental health system pay more. There's a way to address the need and help more people reach their full potential from day one of the new year.

Written by Clayton Travis, Texans Care for Children