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Secrets cause harm: America’s health care

EDDIE BERNICE JOHNSON | 7/3/2017, 10:13 a.m.
In early May, the U.S. House of Representatives passed a bill intended to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act.
eddie bernice johnson

U.S. House of Representatives

In early May, the U.S. House of Representatives passed a bill intended to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act. Under this new legislation, states that expanded Medicaid will likely lose expansion funding, which provides coverage for millions of hard working Americans. This bill would also allow states to apply for waivers to eliminate coverage of Essential Health Benefits, which includes maternity care, mental health and prescription drugs. At this point, Senate Republicans are attempting to steamroll similar legislation through the Senate behind closed doors without any hearings or stakeholder input. It would appear that the days of transparent governance are far in the past, as the Senate Republicans attempt to hide the details of the bill from the public eye. However, what we do know is the new bill will not provide coverage for the most vulnerable and will strip protections from employer-based insurance beneficiaries.

After working for years to find a solution for mental health reform, we were able to pass bipartisan legislation to reform the mental health system. Provisions of H.R. 2646, the Helping Families in Mental Health Crisis Act were included in the 21st Century Cures Act, a mostly biomedical innovation bill. That legislation will benefit the many individuals who battle mental illness and substance use disorders. Unfortunately, it is under attack by those who wish to roll back protections stipulated under the Affordable Care Act.

If the Senate passes their secretive bill and the House agrees to it, millions of Americans’ health care coverage will be impacted. Even further, the bipartisan mental health reforms that we have achieved would be stripped, leaving many Americans to suffer. Under the revised health care legislation, mental illness will be considered a pre-existing condition, forcing patients to pay out-of-pocket for psychiatric care and prescription drugs. Ultimately, if protections in the Affordable Care Act are repealed, under the House repeal legislation, approximately 24 million hard working American people will lose their health coverage by 2026, including 7 million who receive health insurance through their employer. Under the revised House bill, $839 billion will be cut from Medicaid, punishing the most vulnerable individuals in our society. This would include about 14 million seniors, children, and disabled individuals by 2026.

Unfortunately, all of the unraveling of the Affordable Care Act will also dismantle many of the protections that we achieved as part of mental health reform. Coverage of mental health treatment is just one of many of the components of the Affordable Care Act that would be removed if any repeal legislation hits the president’s desk. Additionally, those aged 50 to 64 will have to pay premiums five times higher than what others pay for health coverage, no matter how healthy they are.

The retraction of this legislation is deplorable. Health care is an inalienable right, and I simply will not stand by idly as Republican members of Congress attempt to strip hard-working Americans of the medical services that they deserve. I will continue to do everything in my power to ensure that the people of Dallas and the American people as a whole receive proper coverage, including the mental health care they deserve.

As a result of my continued work in the mental health field, I was recently recognized by Mental Health America and the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention. However, our work in behavioral and mental health and substance use will never be over. As we move towards the Senate health care bill reveal, I encourage all of my constituents to call our senators to voice your disapproval of the hidden legislation. We as Americans deserve to be aware of any plans that will impact our daily lives.

U.S. Representative Eddie Bernice Johnson is the ranking member of the House Committee on Science, Space, and Technology. She represents the 30th Congressional District of Texas.