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July 17, 2014

Closing the Coverage Gap Can Help Reduce Depression

There is growing evidence that closing the health insurance coverage gap could help thousands of Virginians who desperately need mental health care. The General Assembly has responded to the tragic events that befell one of their own  – Sen. Creigh Deeds and his son who struggled with mental health issues – by taking small steps to address mental health crises. But now it’s time for the Commonwealth to take a more proactive approach to tackling the mental health challenges that affect so many Virginians.   

A recent report from the White House Council of Economic Advisers estimates that closing the coverage gap could reduce the number of Virginians experiencing depression by 17,000.  This estimate comes from applying data from an important study on Oregon’s expansion of health coverage to Virginia. The Oregon study found that people who gained health coverage through Medicaid were 31 percent less likely to show signs of depression than those who were unable to gain coverage.

About 553,000 Virginians experience depression every year, and people with low incomes are more likely to have symptoms of depression than those with higher incomes. Adults 45-64 years old whose income is below 100 percent Federal Poverty Level ($11,670 a year), have the highest rate of depression and would stand to gain access to the doctors and medication they need if Virginia closes the coverage gap.

The consequences of letting a mental illness go untreated can be devastating. Depression alone is known to increase morbidity, mortality, and reduce productivity. It’s thought to be responsible for up to 70 percent of psychiatric hospitalizations and around 40 percent of suicides. Depression can keep individuals with other chronic illnesses from seeking the treatment they need, reducing their quality of life, making the condition worse and potentially more expensive to treat. Individuals experiencing depression are as much as three times as likely to die from heart disease.

The most important thing for treating mental illnesses is receiving an accurate diagnosis. Unfortunately, many people go undiagnosed because they do not have health insurance and cannot afford to go to the doctor.  Closing the coverage gap would allow thousands of Virginians to gain access to the treatment and services they desperately need.

 –Asasi Francois, Research Intern

The Commonwealth Institute

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