KAREN CURRIE: Benefits of Medicaid expansion for behavioral health population

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Karen Currie GUEST OPINION

Idahoans have a long-standing belief and tradition of being there to help our neighbors when they need it. Not because we want the credit or because we feel obligated, but because that’s who we are. When a fellow Idahoan needs a helping hand, we offer it because it’s the right thing to do. This is true across the state and this value is a foundation in Idaho’s more rural communities, like Kellogg, where I work every day as a mental health therapist.

On Nov. 6, Idahoans had an incredible opportunity to embrace our Idaho values and take care of our own by voting to expand Medicaid to those in the “coverage gap,” and more than 60 percent said yes to it. Families in the gap don’t qualify for Medicaid, but don’t make enough to afford private insurance on the current state exchange. Twenty-eight percent of rural Idahoans are uninsured, because they are more likely to work seasonally and for small businesses, which typically don’t offer insurance. All they have are “hope-for-the-best” plans.

In my line of work, many of the patients I see with behavioral health conditions — mental illness or substance use disorders — fall into the gap. Behavioral health is just as important as physical health, yet sometimes is perceived as optional or medically unnecessary. In reality, physical health and behavioral health are interrelated, and untreated conditions for either can lead to debilitating and chronic conditions that inhibit everyday lives.

Though we serve all patients that come through our doors, the severe lack of coverage and services in many areas of Idaho prohibits too many of our fellow Idahoans from living a steady and productive life. When our neighbors can’t get the treatment they so desperately need, their only option is to wait until they have no option but to check in to the emergency room.

Allowing our fellow Idahoans to reach the point of crisis isn’t an effective way of treating behavioral health, but more importantly it isn’t living up to our values. Instead, increasing access to affordable treatment allows those managing a behavioral health condition to work and contribute to their communities every day.

Closing the gap will provide behavioral health coverage to many of the people we see here in Kellogg and other small-town communities across the state. Additionally, providing access to affordable health coverage leads to more financial stability for local health care providers and hospitals, increased primary care visits and improvement in mental health outcomes.

I was born and raised in Idaho. I love where I live and the community that I get to work in every day. Idahoans value independence, hard work and helping our neighbors when times get tough. On Nov. 6, we overwhelmingly voted in alignment with those values by giving our neighbors peace of mind to know that they will have access to comprehensive behavioral health coverage when they need it so that they can continue on the road toward recovery.

• • •

Karen Currie is an Idaho native and works as a clinical mental health therapist that serves Kellogg and surrounding rural communities. In her teenage years and early 20s, she experienced the negative effects of an undertreated mental health condition. This spurred a passion for helping others with similar experiences. She went on to get her master’s degree and now works with others to manage their mental health effectively.

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