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Medicaid Expansion Presents Benefits for Behavioral Health Needs

The Scoop

The Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) recently released a brief detailing the benefits of Medicaid expansion for people with mental illness and substance use disorders. 


  • Medicaid expansion = good news for behavioral health needs
  • It could also help with America’s opioid problem, but 19 states have yet to expand
  • Expansion could also free up state budgets from behavioral health costs for the uninsured

The Details 

Medicaid expansion could be a big help for America’s opioid addiction epidemic, among other behavioral health needs, but 19 states have not yet expanded their Medicaid programs. According to HHS, that’s an issue because approximately 28% of low-income, uninsured adults in non-expanded states have behavioral health disorders, and most of these individuals would gain access to treatment if their states were to expand. In fact, research shows they’d be 30% more likely to receive treatment if they had Medicaid.1

(A little refresher on Medicaid expansion: it expands eligibility requirements to cover people whose income is at or below 138% of the federal poverty level.)

When it comes to treatment for opioid addiction, a recent study found that there was an increase in the number of physicians registered to prescribe buprenorphine (a drug used to treat opioid addiction) in states that expanded their Medicaid programs and established state-based health insurance exchanges.2 Expanded states have also seen lower rates of depression, and according to the Council of Economic Advisers, an estimated 371,000 fewer people would have symptoms of depression if the remaining states expanded their Medicaid programs. 

And for those who see budget as a roadblock, the brief explains how Medicaid expansion could free up state budgets for behavioral health programs, allowing funds to be invested in prevention or early intervention programs, which could also aid in the opioid addiction situation. 

Bottom line? Medicaid expansion could help with a lot of unmet behavioral health needs, but is it enough to sway states who are holding back due to budget concerns? Decisions, decisions.