Following Saturday’s tragic shooting in Tucson, Arizona, some Republicans have argued that 22-year old assassin Jared Lee Loughner was more affected by his mental illness than the nation’s lax gun control laws or Washington’s divisive and often times violent political rhetoric. “What will solve this problem is removing the politics from it and getting after the crux of this problem and that is somebody who needed mental health services and or legal intervention much earlier in his cycle toward violence,” Rep. Mike Rogers (R-MI) said this afternoon on MSNBC:
ROGERS: If we want to solve this kind of thing from happening, we have to intervene with somebody who has expressed tendencies toward violence, who has a pretty strong history of mental illness. And right now, we’re not talking about that at all. Everybody is talking about ‘oh, this is about people having guns, this is about political speech.’ None of that had a factor here. When you look at the evidence that has been collected up, this wasn’t about politics…If we want to solve this from happening in the future, you can talk about all the gun laws you want — that’s not going to do it. A bad guy is going to get a gun. What we have to do is intervene earlier in that cycle of violence when they have this kind of mental disability.
Newly-elected Rep. Allen West (R-FL) struck a similar note on his Facebook page, saying “The shooter was a very disturbed individual and it appears there were so many warning signs that he was going to do something horrible. We should be focusing on the mental health crisis in our country, not politics.” Indeed, as Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-OH) pointed out this morning, the Tuscon shooting highlights the poor state of the nation’s mental health safety net, which often falls victim to state budget cuts during periods of economic hardship. Congress did not address the issue until 1996, and has been increasing access to mental services ever since — despite Republican opposition.
Fourteen years ago, the late Sen. Paul Wellstone (D-MN) secured passage of a “partial parity” law that “stopped insurance plans from being allowed to pay less to treat mental ailments as opposed to physical ones.” But the industry soon gamed the law by “limiting the number of mental health visits or days in the hospital.” On June 17, 2008, President Bush extended MHPA through the end of 2008, but didn’t sign full parity legislation until later that year as part of the TARP measure. At the time, 146 Republicans voted against full mental health parity, including now House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH), and Rogers.
President Obama’s health reform legislation — which all Republicans now want to repeal — would go even further in helping Americans with mental illness. By 2014, families and individuals will be able to enroll in insurance through an expanded Medicaid program or 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 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.” As Michael J. Fitzpatrick, executive director of the National Alliance on Mental Illness, or NAMI, told the New York Times shortly after reform was signed into law, reform “can change the mental health system in America and really give families and individuals an opportunity to get a level of access to care we could only fantasize about before this became law.”
Cross-posted on The Wonk Room.