After he failed to secure enough votes to repeal the Affordable Care Act (ACA) last month, Donald Trump is rushing to push another version of his health care bill through the House of Representatives. Like last month’s bill, this legislation would cause tens of millions to lose their health care coverage. And, in an effort to win the votes of the ultra-conservative House Freedom Caucus, the new bill would charge those with pre-existing conditions more for insurance and allow states to opt out of the Affordable Care Act’s essential health benefits requirements. Essential health benefits are a crucial part of the ACA, since they require insurance companies to cover services that they used to skimp on—like emergency services, pregnancy and maternity care, pediatric services, substance use disorder services, and rehabilitative care. Plus one more: mental health care.
Health insurance companies did not have to cover mental health care until the Affordable Care Act made it mandatory. If that requirement is repealed, people will get less treatment. Without treatment, some people will succumb to their illnesses. That means more suicides.
That’s not hyperbole. It’s not hysterics, or fear-mongering. I’ve seen it happen. My dad killed himself a few weeks after my 12th birthday.
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Even 12 years after my dad’s death, I’m haunted by the memories of that night. I can still see my mom crying as she broke the news to her two kids, the shock on my older brother’s ghostly white face, and the red and blue lights of a police car swirling on our living room walls. The sight of police lights still makes my stomach drop.
My father’s suicide has shaped my life. It brought isolating numbness, crushing grief, and strange looks from the people in my small town who were uncomfortable with its taboo. My family’s income, which was decidedly middle class before my dad’s death, was more than halved by his passing. We made it work because we had Social Security survivors benefits, free and reduced price lunches, and could take out a home equity loan that we still carry today. That made it possible for my mother—an actual, honest-to-God superhero—to keep my brother and I fed and clothed on less than $40,000 a year.
Though Trump and the House Freedom Caucus may treat it as such, mental health is not a fringe issue. Every year, more than 44,000 Americans die by suicide. On average, it affects demographics that voted for Trump the most: 70 percent of suicide victims in 2015 were white men, with the rate of suicide being highest among middle-aged men. Like my dad.
My dad died, at least in part, because he wasn’t in treatment. Under Trumpcare, millions of Americans will find it difficult to seek treatment as well. Trump is gambling with their lives to pass a health care plan that will cut taxes for the wealthy.
If the bill passes, I could struggle to afford the therapy that helps me deal with the grief of losing my father. And there will be more 12-year-olds, like me, who will lose their loved ones. I can picture them now: hugging their knees, and watching the red and blue lights dance on the walls of their house as their world comes crashing down.
I don’t wish that on anyone. I just wish our president felt the same.