Reader's View, suicide prevention: Medicaid funds would improve access to mental health services

September 25, 2013 

Idaho is built on strong families and strong communities. Suicide is one of the most heartbreaking events that can tear those communities apart. As citizens of the great state of Idaho, we should reflect upon how we can give hope to our fellow Idahoans during dark times to prevent more tragedies.

Our friends, neighbors, and family members need access to support and mental health services well before they contemplate suicide.

Our Idaho Legislature recognizes the devastating toll that suicide takes on our communities (we have the sixth highest suicide rate in the nation). In 2012, our lawmakers wisely allocated seed money to reopen the Idaho Suicide Prevention Hotline. This critical resource provides emotional support at the time of crisis and links callers to local services. Since launching, the hotline has responded to hundreds of calls, likely saving many lives.

While the hotline is essential, callers may not be able to pay for mental health treatment. This treatment is crucial to ensuring they get on the path to a healthy life. The hotline is also unable to reach out to Idahoans before they reach the deepest levels of despair. We need broad access to affordable mental health treatment to ensure all of our friends and family members can get help as soon as they need it.

We need more support for individuals at risk and, fortunately, we have an opportunity this year to provide that support at no additional cost to Idaho taxpayers.

By accepting the new Medicaid dollars, we will also strengthen our ability to prevent suicide. These funds will vastly increase access to affordable mental health treatment and provide a path forward to struggling Idahoans.

There is more good news for Idaho’s working families. Starting in October, uninsured middle-income Idahoans can shop for coverage in our state’s health insurance exchange and, for qualifying families based on income, receive tax credits to help pay for coverage.

This will keep those families strong. However, families with lower income levels will not qualify for tax credits. The piece of the new health law designed for lower-income families is through optional Medicaid dollars, which each state must decide to accept. Idaho has not yet taken action to accept those funds, leaving us with unequal access to health care.

When Idahoans receive treatment for depression and other mental illnesses, we have stronger parents caring for their children, we have safer communities, and we have a more prosperous state.

Please contact your legislators to let them know that you want Idaho to accept the new Medicaid funds. You can find your district and representatives at this link: http://legislature.idaho.gov/about/12districtmap.pdf. And you can email them here: http://legislature.idaho.gov/howtocontactlegislators.htm.

Alex J. Reed, Psy.D., MPH, is director of behavioral science, mental health and research at Family Medicine Residency of Idaho.

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