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Tenn. Mental-Health Care Availability Could Be at Risk

Experts fear repealing the Affordable Care Act could reduce access to mental health care for those who need and depend on it. (Ryan Melaugh/Flickr)
Experts fear repealing the Affordable Care Act could reduce access to mental health care for those who need and depend on it. (Ryan Melaugh/Flickr)
February 16, 2017

NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- While the fate of the Affordable Care Act hangs in limbo, one sector of the population is particularly vulnerable to changes in the health care system. Over the last eight years, access to mental health care for those who need it has increased through availability of coverage and safeguards to ensure access to that care.

Jeff Fladen with the National Alliance on Mental Illness in Tennessee said reducing accessibility for folks who need mental health services also greatly affects their ability to remain self-sufficient.

"They're getting insurance now through the exchanges and if a lot of people lose insurance because there's no subsidy, then they won't have insurance coverage for treatment,” Fladen said. "And that can make the difference between keeping the job and advancing and not."

Experts say it can take up to 10 years to establish a successful treatment plan for people in need of mental health care, and a disruption in treatment can instigate behavior that makes it almost impossible for some people to function in society.

Fladen said if the state and federal governments don't support regular mental health care for those who need it, it ultimately will cost more down the line - from law enforcement to social services.

"We have a lot of low income people who would depend on things like Medicaid through block grants and Medicaid expansion,” Fladen said. "And reduction in care will hit that group even more, which will cost all of us more - in hospitals and jails and homelessness - even above and beyond the impact on the individual and their family."

Despite the progress made in the availability of care, he said millions of people still live in areas with a shortage of mental health service providers - particularly in rural and economically disadvantaged communities.

Stephanie Carson, Public News Service - TN