Mental health advocates gathered at the Statehouse on Thursday to push for Medicaid expansion in Ohio.
Among the supporters? Former Ohio State phenom running back Maurice Clarett.
Clarett, part of the 2002 National Championship team, had numerous off-the-field troubles, including robbery and weapons convictions that put him in prison. He has since been treated for depression.
"Mental illness is a stigma. At Ohio State, it was an excusing behavior I was in denial about," Clarett said.
Clarett said when he takes his medication, it gives him a chance to live his life.
“Everyone deserves that,” he said adding that he believes the best way he can help is by sharing his story.
“(As) somebody who has been to prison…and to crawl out and get my life back together, to know the fundamental reasons or principles of why the way I am now just means a lot to me personally,” he said. “And the people that shared their stories (today), I felt them and understood it and I could identify with them.”
The Ohio Association of County Behavioral Health Authorities and the National Alliance on Mental Illness of Ohio put together today’s event to highlight the need for treatment and how Medicaid expansion could help. Clarett was just one of many who spoke about struggling with mental illness.
Maureen Waybright of Stark County, who suffers from bipolar disorder with traits of borderline personality disorder, shared her story of being taken off Medicaid after 18 years when she decided she was stable enough to return to work.
“I understood losing my food stamps when my income increased…but I didn’t understand why the government programs were insisting I lose my Medicaid coverage.” she said. “Without that coverage I would not be the full time employee that I am today.”
A report released earlier in the year by the National Alliance for Mental Illness found 1 in 4 Ohioans who would gain subsidized health coverage suffer from mental illness.
“We believe it is our job and the job of Ohio’s elected leaders to ensure treatment is available for those in need and that a barrier to treatment is not a lack of coverage,” said Cheri Walter, CEO of OACBHA.
Walter and others reiterated throughout that mental illness and addiction are treatable diseases and that people can and do recover.
Medicaid expansion has been a hot button issue in the state this year. Gov. John Kasich supports the expansion and included it in his two-year budget proposal. But Republicans lawmakers stripped the expansion of the budget before passing it. Now they are talking about Medicaid reform.
As proposed by Kasich Medicaid would be expanded to 138 percent of the federal poverty level, covering an estimated 275,000 low-income Ohioans. It would be 100 percent federally funded for the first three years, eventually dropping to 90 percent, and would bring an estimated $13 billion in federal funding to Ohio over seven years.
Opponents have said expanding Medicaid will drive up the federal deficit and fear that the federal government can’t deliver on covering 100 percent of the costs.
Under the Affordable Care Act, most Americans will face tax penalties if they do not have health insurance starting in January.
Alex Felser is a fellow in Ohio University’s E.W. Scripps School of Journalism Statehouse News Bureau.
By Alex Felser - The Columbus Dispatch, Ohio (MCT)
©2013 The Columbus Dispatch (Columbus, Ohio)
Visit The Columbus Dispatch (Columbus, Ohio) at www.dispatch.com
Distributed by MCT Information Services