Mitt Romney dodged a question about his policy for enhancing access to mental health care services during a town hall in Shelby Township, Michigan Tuesday afternoon and instead poked fun at Canada’s universal health care system. During an exchange with an audience member who had traveled from Ontario, Canada to speak with the former Massachusetts governor, Romney jokingly asked the questioner if he had come to mooch off America’s health system and could not explain how he would improve treatments for mental health in the United States. Instead, Romney reflexively promised to reduce federal funding to mental health programs by sending them back to the states:
QUESTIONER: You can’t have my health card!
ROMNEY: I don’t want it! Did you come down here to get medical treatment?
QUESTIONER: No, no! Absolutely not. I came down here because when your father was the governor of this state he was a leader in child care and mental health care and it’s now become horrible….this whole country has a deplorable record when it comes to dealing with mental health issues. I would like to know, what’s your position on fixing this? [...]
ROMNEY: We spend money very ineffectively…and I will look at the area of mental health spending and how it’s spent state by state and federally and how we can do a better job. But let me take an example I’m more familiar with, which is something that’s also important, which is workforce training…. For me, issues of the nature you’ve described, mental health issues, education issues, care for the poor, workforce training, these should be brought home closer to the people.
In reality, many states — including Michigan — have been cutting back on mental health services in an effort to reduce health care spending and balance their budgets. Romney’s pledge to repeal the Affordable Care Act would likely grow the number of people without insurance and disproportionately impact individuals with mental health conditions and his proposal to block grant federal aid could also significantly limit the government’s investment.
One-fifth to one-third of the uninsured suffer from mental and substance use disorders and experts estimate that four million Americans “have severe psychiatric disorders with a subset of 400,000 homeless and untreated not complying with their needed medications and another sub-sub set of 40,000 considered the most dangerous, not being treated or taking meds and demonstrating very violent behavior.” Under Obama’s health care reform law, some individuals with mental health problems are receiving insurance through the temporary high-risk insurance pools, and by 2014, they’ll be able to enroll in insurance through the exchanges, where private companies will have to offer mental health and substance use disorder services as part of the essential package of benefits. The law also expands parity — a requirement that benefits for mental illnesses to be on par with benefits for medical illnesses — “to a much wider pool, making it possible for millions more people to get the same coverage for substance abuse and illnesses like bipolar disorder, major depression and schizophrenia as they would for, say, diabetes or cancer.” Romney would repeal that provision.
But the question left Romney speechless and looking foolish as he attacked a nation with far better health care access than the United States and offered no solution to dealing with America’s mental health challenge.