Editorial: Money to Treat Addiction, Mental Health Issues

Editorial: Money to Treat Addiction, Mental Health Issues

Affordable Care Act could pay for help, better health for 100,000 uninsured people in Virginia with mental illness or addiction issues.

Poor people without health insurance in Virginia are being unnecessarily tortured, in some cases to death, by a General Assembly that refuses to expand Medicaid. They deny healthcare to as many as 400,000 Virginians despite the fact that for the first three years, there would be no additional cost to the Commonwealth, and after that Feds would pay at least 90 percent of the cost.

A new report released on Monday by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services points to an area beyond preventative medicine and primary care. According to the report, in Virginia, 102,000 uninsured people with a mental illness or substance use disorder could qualify for coverage if Medicaid were expanded under the Affordable Care Act. The report estimates that more than a third of low income people in Virginia without health insurance have “behavioral health” needs.

As Virginia and the rest of the nation wrestles with huge growth in heroin and opioid addiction, expanding Medicaid would allow for expanding treatment programs. One of the big obstacles to helping people who are fighting addiction is the availability of treatment when it is most needed. People die as a result. In Northern Virginia, heroin-related deaths increased 164 percent between 2011 and 2013. In Fairfax County, in just one year – from 2013 to 2014 – the number of deaths from heroin overdose doubled. Virginia is one of 14 states identified in a recent Centers for Disease Control reports with significant increases in overdose deaths in the last few years. Nationally, heroin overdose death rates increased by 26 percent from 2013 to 2014 and have more than tripled since 2010, according to the CDC. A mind boggling statistic: In 2014, there were approximately one-and-a-half times more drug overdose deaths in the United States than deaths from motor vehicle crashes.

Turning away resources to treat this eviscerating epidemic ensures that some people who need treatment but cannot access it will die. Turning away this money makes no more sense than sending back federal funding for building rail to Dulles.

Depression and other mental health disorders result in significant economic cost as well. This week’s HHS report estimates that if Virginia expanded Medicaid, 16,000 fewer individuals would experience symptoms of depression, which would make them far more likely to be able to work.

Under the Affordable Care Act, states have the opportunity to expand Medicaid coverage to individuals with family incomes at or below 138 percent of the federal poverty level.

Get involved, Budget

Next week, Fairfax County residents will have three opportunities to weigh in on what has so far been a fairly contentious budget season.

Sign up to attend a public hearing at the Fairfax County Government Center on the proposed FY 2017 Budget:

  • April 5, beginning at 4 p.m.

  • April 6, beginning at 1 p.m.

  • April 7, beginning at 1 p.m.

Email your feedback and comments to dmbinfo@fairfaxcounty.gov through mid-April, be sure to copy the Connection to have your comments be considered as a letter to the editor, editors@connectionnewspapers.com,

More information on the budget, and a link to sign up to speak can be found at