Comment: Demand remains for care, including mental health

Congress’ IRA has helped, but polls find access to care is still a concern for many in Washington state.

By Jeremy Harrison-Smith / For The Herald

This year has been a tough year for many. With covid still being a threat, new public health threats on the horizon from monkeypox and inflation rising to 40-year highs, 2022 has forced its fair share of challenges.

And although the Inflation Reduction Act should help to reduce one of those burdens over the coming months, those changes will not be immediate.

Additional threats, beyond those most front of mind, remain as well. Chief among them being the cost of health care, and the added strain that Washingtonians feel on their budgets as the cost of care rises each year and out-of-pocket costs add up. This year, total U.S. covid cases all-time surpassed 90 million people, nearly a third of the U.S. population; meanwhile Washington has crossed 1.5 million cases itself, including long-covid and its associated tolls — mental, physical, and financial — continue to be a factor.

In late June, EMC Research and Impact Research conducted research on behalf of Consumers for Quality Care that addresses some of the issues plaguing our health care system. Washingtonians are struggling under the weight of these added costs; 45 percent were looking for Congress to take action on rising health care costs and inflation, with another 66 percent agreeing that health care costs are rising faster than other items.

Beyond that, by a more than 2-to-1 margin, they voiced their main concern in the health care space that out-of-pocket costs are too high. As it stands, Congress has taken some action to alleviate these issues in the Inflation Reduction Act, including the extension of subsidies for Americans enrolled in the Affordable Care Act and through the inclusion of of an out-of-pocket expense cap in Medicare Part D, but more can be done.

One of the most immediate steps that Congress can take is focused on mental health. The pandemic, whether you have been infected with covid previously or not, has taken a toll on us all. Between the lockdowns, the still omnipresent risk of getting sick, or effects of long-covid or deaths from this illness, many, across the country, have sought professional help to cope. Washingtonians are no different. That said, wanting to seek care is easier said than done.

While out-of-pocket costs are a main concern, a lack of access to mental health services is second, with 14 percent naming access their top concern. And across the board, voters want mental health care to be covered. Over 60 percent have said that it’s difficult to find mental health providers who are covered by their insurance, and 90 percent agree that it is more important than ever for mental health care to be covered under insurance.

Respondents recognize the importance of mental health care and ensuring its coverage should be a priority for Congress. Polling showed that over 70 percent of voters are more likely to support a candidate who makes reducing health care costs their top priority, and that includes strong majorities of persuadable voters (68 percent). Making mental health care affordable can and should be part of reducing health care costs.

Health care costs, including mental health care, and inflation are front of mind issues for voters right now. And even with the Inflation Reduction Act now signed, it’s unlikely that these issues leave their minds right away. It’s time for Washingtonians to have access to affordable health care, including mental health care. It’s more important than ever that this is prioritized by Congress.

Jeremy Harrison-Smith is the former executive director of the Northwest Chapter of the National Scleroderma Foundation and is a health care advocate in Washington state.

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