February 23, 2017

By Jessica W. Hart

Congress is on break this week, which means Senators and Representatives are back home—but not on vacation. It’s time to remind them that one in five of the constituents they’ll encounter back home lives with a mental health condition.

Last year, Congress passed important mental health reforms to address the mental health crisis in our nation. But these reforms are in jeopardy if coverage is cut, which is a very real threat right now.

What’s at Stake for Mental Health Care?

  • The Affordable Care Act (ACA) provides life-saving mental health coverage so Americans get mental health treatment when they need it—helping them to stay in school, on the job and in recovery.
  • Today, under the ACA, anyone can get health care coverage and no one can be denied because they have a mental health condition.
  • Once a person is covered, the ACA provides safeguards to ensure that a person can’t be dropped from their plan or turned down for renewal or charged more just because they have a mental health condition.

Medicaid also provides vital mental health coverage, but Congress is calling for changes to the Medicaid program to provide more “flexibility” that would result in deep reductions in funding over the next few years.

When members of Congress are back in town, the most effective way to make your voice heard is to go your local town hall meetings and speak up. Town hall meetings are where elected official can listen and respond to questions and concerns in a public forum. As a member of the mental health movement, this is where you can exercise your right as a citizen to speak with your representatives about the importance of quality, affordable mental health coverage. Let your elected officials know that you are paying attention to what is happening with mental health coverage in Washington, D.C.

How Can I Find a Town Hall Meeting?

First, find your members of Congress by going here for the House and here for the Senate. Then, go to your senators’ and representative’s websites to find out when their next town hall meeting is being held. Check under “events” or “contact.” If you can’t find a town hall meeting, email or call their offices and ask for information directly.

What Should I Say When I Get There?

Your story is powerful. Hearing from you about how the Affordable Care Act (ACA) or Medicaid has positively impacted your life can help shape the conversation around health coverage in America. Telling your story in a few sentences is easy. Here’s how:

  1. Introduce yourself. My name is __________ and I am a constituent from {city}. I am a person living with a mental health condition or I am a family member of someone living with a mental health condition or I am a professional in the mental health field.
  2. Say how the ACA or Medicaid has positively impacted your life. The {ACA or Medicaid} has helped me live a better life. {Briefly describe how it has helped you or somebody you know. Review our “What’s at Stake” fact sheet to learn more about aspects of the ACA or Medicaid that might benefit you.}
  3. Ask a question. {Senator or Representative}, how will you protect mental health coverage in insurance plans and Medicaid?

For example:

  • My name is Lauren, and I am a constituent from Springfield. I’m 25 years old and I live with bipolar disorder. When I was first diagnosed, I had to drop out of college and I lost hope that I could have any kind of future. Now I get health care through Medicaid and it’s helped me get medication I can afford and therapy so I can go back to school. How will you protect access to Medicaid for people like me who want to be productive members of the community?
  • My name is Jose and I am a constituent from Springfield. I am a small business owner and I also have been hospitalized for depression. Before the Affordable Care Act was passed, insurance for someone like me—who is self-insured and has a pre-existing condition—was so expensive that I didn’t have coverage for two years while my business got off the ground. With the Affordable Care Act, I now have options to buy coverage on the insurance marketplace and I can’t be denied coverage for a pre-existing condition. How will you protect insurance coverage for people like me?

Tips on How to be Effective at a Town Hall Meeting

  • Organize a group who cares about mental health to attend. With a group of even just a few people, there’s a greater chance that you will have an opportunity to ask a mental health-related question. To be more visible, wear the same color, wear NAMI stickers or carry an #Act4MentalHealth sign.
  • Stay nonpartisan. Mental illness does not discriminate based on gender, race, religion or political viewpoint. We are a nonpartisan grassroots mental health movement, with advocates of every political stripe. We are united to advance one cause: to build better lives for the millions of Americans affected by mental illness.
  • Record the questions and answers. Ask someone in your group to videotape any mental health questions and responses. Share on social media and tag @NAMIAdvocacy on Twitter.
  • Follow-up. If your members of Congress committed to support mental health, follow up with a thank you email, Tweet or Facebook post to their office. If they did not make a commitment, don’t give up; keep asking for their support.

Can’t Make a Town Hall Meeting?

If you can’t make it to a town hall meeting or your senators and representative aren’t holding a public event, make your voice heard by contacting your senators and representative now.

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text “helpline” to 62640, or chat online. In a crisis, call or text 988 (24/7).