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Obamacare and mental health coverage share an uncertain future

by Brooke Jarchow

Tomorrow, President-elect Donald Trump will take office as the next President of the United States. The President-elect made a list of promises for his first 100 days in office, including a promise to “immediately deliver a full repeal of Obamacare“. Despite revealing few details of a replacement plan so far, Trump has also promised that there will be “insurance for everybody.”

However, if Obamacare is fully repealed, 20 million currently-covered people could be left uninsured or paying more for insurance, including those with pre-existing conditions. Among the most common pre-existing conditions is mental illness, currently impacting one in five Americans.


Let’s take a look back at mental health coverage in America. In 2014, Obamacare provided the largest expansion of mental health and substance use disorder coverage in a generation. A provision of the health law requires health insurance plans to cover necessary services for those with mental illness. Obamacare also requires health insurance plans to provide preventive services such as cost-free depression screenings.

In the United States, over 30 percent of the population is affected by anxiety disorders, including generalized anxiety, social anxiety, panic attacks, phobias, OCD, PTSD, depression, eating disorders, bipolar disorders, and more. Anxiety disorders also affect one in eight children, and research shows that if untreated, children with anxiety are more likely to perform poorly in school and engage in substance abuse.

Anxiety can severely impact quality of life for children and adults. Studies show that many young adults in college suffer from anxiety disorders related to stress. The most recent Senate vote attempted to deny those who are age 26 and under from staying on their parent’s health plan, a current provision of Obamacare. This could potentially lead to untreated and undiagnosed mental illnesses in young adults.

If left untreated or undiagnosed, mental illnesses can lead to other chronic illnesses, job and relationship instability, homelessness, incarceration, and violence. Should Trump and the Republicans succeed in repealing Obamacare, those with mental illness could face dangerous repercussions. During his campaign, Trump emphasized that the United States needs to focus on the “massive problem” of mental health, but in order to improve mental health, those suffering from or prone to mental illnesses will need access to coverage and care.

While the Senate’s votes to repeal certain aspects of the health law that would affect mental health coverage are not yet final, this is a reminder that Trump and the Republicans are standing by their promises. The future of mental health care for millions in America remains uncertain until a replacement plan is put in place.

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