New report shows Medicaid expansion in Utah can improve behavioral health care access

DISTRICT OF COLUMBIA — Substance use disorders and mental illness are prevalent and serious public health problems in American communities. On Tuesday, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services released a report showing that Utah can greatly improve access to behavioral health services for its residents by expanding Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act. In Utah, 42,000 uninsured people with a mental illness or substance use disorder had incomes in 2014 that could qualify them for expanded Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act.

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services report finds that people with behavioral health needs made up a substantial share of all low-income uninsured individuals: in Utah, about 40 percent. While some of these individuals had access to some source of health insurance in 2014, many will only gain access to coverage if Utah expands Medicaid, and others would gain access to more affordable coverage.

“Today’s report shows that Medicaid expansion is an important step Utah can take to address behavioral health needs, including serious mental illness and opioid and other substance use disorders,” Secretary of Health and Human Services Sylvia M. Burwell said.

The report highlights that, along with its other benefits, Medicaid expansion would dramatically improve access to treatment for people with mental and substance use disorders, thereby improving health outcomes. Research shows that low-income adults with serious mental illness are significantly more likely to receive treatment if they have access to Medicaid coverage, with benefits for their health.

The report estimates that if Utah expanded Medicaid, 6,000 fewer individuals would experience symptoms of depression and 9,000 additional individuals would report being in good or excellent health.

To date, 30 states plus the District of Columbia have expanded Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act. However, 20 states — including many of the states that would benefit most — have not yet seized this opportunity. Previous studies have found that if these states do not change course, over 4 million of their citizens will be deprived of health insurance coverage in 2016.

States that choose to expand Medicaid may achieve significant improvement in their behavioral health programs without incurring new costs. State funds that currently directly support behavioral health care treatment for people who are uninsured but would gain coverage under expansion may become available for other behavioral health investments.

For example, several states that expanded Medicaid reported that they expected reductions in general funds needing to be allocated to the uninsured for treatment ranging from $7 million to $190 million in 2015. This creates opportunities to meet other pressing health, mental health and substance use disorder needs.

States can also expect to have a more productive workforce, because expanding treatment will permit a reduction in adverse workforce outcomes stemming from mental and substance use disorders. Research shows that depressed employees incur significantly more disability days than do otherwise similar employees, and substance use disorder treatment was associated with $5,366 annually in employer savings from reduced absenteeism alone.

Thanks to 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. Health care costs for people made newly eligible through the Medicaid expansion are paid for with 100 percent federal funds in 2016, and 95 percent in 2017, scaling down to 90 percent in calendar years 2020 and beyond.

President Obama recently proposed an extra incentive for states that have not yet expanded their Medicaid programs, which would provide any state that takes up Medicaid expansion the same three years of full federal support and gradual phase down that those states that expanded in 2014 received.


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  • BIG GUY March 29, 2016 at 1:14 pm

    Behavioral health care access is a problem, but we face dozens, no hundreds, of other equivalent problems as a society. Liberals endorse new programs to address these problems, embracing one after another, year after year. The problem is that along with every program comes a government bureaucracy to administer it and beneficiaries who lobby intensely for its continuation and expansion. Hence government programs never go away: witness the Tennessee Valley Authority and Rural Electrification Administration, both created in the 1930’s as jobs programs but both have continually redefined themselves for over 80 years and are still sucking up tax payer dollars. And every new program brings with it unintended consequences.

    Government needs to learn to live on a fixed budget. We elect representatives to prioritize our needs. Which program(s) should be cut back or terminated to fund expanded behavioral health care access? We can’t go on adding programs for every problem, real or imagined, we face. As Margaret Thatcher famously said, “The problem with socialism is that you eventually run out of other people’s money.”

    • tcrider March 29, 2016 at 2:14 pm

      fat guy,
      its not that simple, you can blame all your problem on the libs or planned parenthood or whoever you think is causing the problems, but our country has much more complex problems than your fat head can imagine, Its not about the right wing and libs anymore.
      And socialism is starting to gain traction in this country and I don’t believe berny will win this time but someone else will probably get the socialist ball rolling in the future and then look out, your cheeseburger days will be numbered.

      • RealMcCoy March 29, 2016 at 3:33 pm

        He didn’t blame libs, dems, or right wingers in his statement. He said GOVERNMENT likes to start programs without figuring out a way to fund them. What part of that isn’t true?
        Calling him names doesn’t change the fact the the basis premise of his statement is true.
        Let’s face it- libs, dems, AND right wingers all work hard to tax us harder.
        It’s a sad fact, but yes, socialism is gaining traction in this country. The fact that Sanders is even still in the running says a lot about the sad state of the union.

        • tcrider March 29, 2016 at 6:23 pm

          when he blames all his problems on the government, that’s the same thing as name calling to me.
          I wish all these people that complain about the government could spend a couple years living in a third world country
          in a cardboard box and then at the end of the miserable day, sit down with their laptop and complain about it.
          I believe in our government and believe they do a outstanding job with the mix mash of idiotic input and can still get stuff done.
          When I did my military time, it did not matter if there was a republican or democratic administration running the government,
          we were expected to get the job done, and we did.
          The ignorance of a lot of the people complaining about the government should be considered a criminal offense.

          • ladybugavenger March 29, 2016 at 10:54 pm

            Knock it off… This is America not a 3rd world country. We are suppose to be the greatest country but we aren’t anymore…government corruption is a major issue

        • .... March 30, 2016 at 12:47 am

          Yes and don’t forget to mention that you will get the mental health assistance you drastically need

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