WASHINGTON, October 8, 2013 — In a potentially tragic turn of events, low income D.C. residents may lose access to mental health services provided by the city. The D.C. Department of Health Care Finance reported that it may not be able to make its next scheduled Medicare payment as a result of the federal government shutdown. Accordingly, the Department of Behavioral Health may be unable to assist low income or homeless D.C. residents with mental health issues.
Over the past month, the Washington DC area has encountered a steady stream of high profile mental health related incidents, concurrent with the timing of the national debate on Obamacare and the budget crisis. In particular, the city was victim to the attack at the Navy Yard last month, followed by an attempt last week to drive through a secure White House barricade by a woman with “mental health issues.” Later, the same, week a man set himself on fire in front of the National Mall.
Responding to the incidents, D.C. Mayor Vincent Gray will be holding a public discussion at the Washington Convention Center on October 12, 2013 to discuss mental health issues and educate citizens about the topic.
“Mental illness touches all of our communities and many of our families,” Gray said to the Washington Informer. “Too often, the issue is pushed into a corner and hidden, leaving our fellow citizens to struggle in silence to care for their brothers and sisters, mothers and fathers, friends and colleagues. It’s time to end that silence.”
As part of the federal government shutdown, the National Institutes of Mental Health, with several locations in Washington DC, has closed.
The process of signing up for the Affordable Care Act (ACA), popularly known as Obamacare, is not affected by the federal shutdown. Several states have reported widespread ACA website outages in the face of significant web traffic to the signup pages. Many of the individual insurance plans offered on the “Obamacare” exchanges offer a mental health insurance component.
The potential closure comes in the face of increased focus on mental and behavioral health in other areas of the government. The United States Army, on its official webpage, says “The Army expects to have embedded behavioral health teams on Army installations and in all active brigade combat teams no later than fiscal year 2016.”
The Army program includes “‘multi-disciplinary community behavioral health care to Soldiers in close proximity to where they live and to their units.’ That health care stays coordinated with their units and their families, he said.”