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My name is Leslie Bracken and I have bipolar disorder.  I have a few other things, but that’s the one that usually freaks people out.

I’m not the first one to suffer from Mental Illness, and sadly I won’t be the last.  In this country 1 in 5 people are diagnosed with a form of mental illness every year.  1 in 25 are diagnosed with something serious, like bipolar disorder.  1 in 5 children aged 13-18 will experience severe mental illness in their lifetimes.  50% of all substance abuse patients are also Mentally Ill.  This is because medications often don’t work well or side effects are untenable.  The options left are to self-medicate using drugs or alcohol.

It’s expensive to treat the mentally ill.  Besides the 50% of us who have co-occurring Substance Abuse Problems, the doctors are very expensive and the medications can be as well.  We also have an increased risk of chronic medical conditions.  We die, on average, 25 years earlier than normal often due to untreated, but treatable, medical conditions.

President Obama felt that these problems were significant enough that one of the mandates of the ACA was that ALL healthcare policies, including those not purchased through the marketplace, had to have provisions for Mental Health and Substance Abuse Programs.

So, the Affordable Care Act, covers us.  It covers us through employer health care plans, through Medicaid and its expansion, and through Medicare.  It’s the only thing we don’t worry about.  These mandates of coverage through the ACA cover 62 million Americans for Mental Health and Substance Abuse no matter where the insurance was obtained. When you consider that the Affordable Care Act covers around 20 million people directly this is an astonishingly great accomplishment for the other 42 million.

But Representative Mark Sanford and the Freedom Caucus look to undo the Essential Coverages that President Obama gave us.  Those Essential Services are Maternity Coverage, Emergency Services, Substance Abuse Rehabilitation, Laboratory Services, Preventive Care, Pediatric Services, Ambulatory Services, Prescription Coverage, Hospitalization and Mental Health Services.

I routinely use Prescription Services, in fact I take 8 separate medications to stabilize my conditions.  I use Laboratory Services, because of the specific medications I take.  I use Mental Health Services, because I need therapy and a psychiatrist.  And on occasion, Hospitalization Services when my disease gets away from me.

As of 2020, Mentally Ill Medicaid recipients may longer have access to Mental Health Services or Substance Abuse Programs.  These are the poorest of the poor and I personally know some of them struggling with the same issues I do.   1 in 5 Medicaid recipients have a Mental Health Condition.  That means 20% of Medicaid recipients could easily lose their insurance to help with one of their most awful afflictions.

I’m very blessed.  My husband has a decent job with a big company and we have great healthcare.  However, if the Mandate for Essential Services is removed from the AHCA, it’s a logical next step for companies to start offering stripped down versions of health insurance.  Will I lose my lifesaving coverage or will I have to pay an exhorbitant “surcharge” to get those services back?  I don’t know the answer, but the possibilities have me worried.

What about the people, though, who rely on Medicaid to get their treatment?  What happens to them?

I desperately hope that I have made my point clear to all of you today.  Living with Mental Illness sometimes means that my anxiety is too high or that I forget things that are important.  The services I receive through the ACA Mandates are crucial to my survival

I call on Representative Mark Sanford to not forget the people who have already been left behind in so many other ways.  The vote is tonight and his office knows we’re here!