Governor LePage, “Able Bodies”, Unhealthy Minds & Medicaid Expansion

Governor Lepage,

I am disturbed by your repeated references to welfare for “able bodied adults.” It needs to end. Sadly, it does not seem to occur to you that “able bodied” is an offensive term. What constitutes an “able body?” Many of my friends who’ve had amputations, partial paralysis, and an array of debilitating health conditions consider themselves “able bodied.” The use of this unfortunate phrase implies a clear standard for what an “able body” is.

We may need to disagree on many things, Governor. In my view, health care is not welfare. I concede that how one views access to health care is largely a matter of ideology. I believe that holistic health is a basic human right. I have no interest in challenging your values. I do wish for you to consider that untreated mental illness is pervasive in our state and in our country. It’s a major social problem. Being capable of work physically has nothing to do with whether or not a person lives with a mental illness.

Just over a week ago, Cameron Arrigoni was shot to death after pointing a handgun at two police officers. He was 21 years old and suicidal by report. His story may never be known. What is known is that without dependent children, the demographic he represents are not eligible for Maine Care and consequently often go without the help they desperate need.

According to the Maine Centers for Disease Control, an average of 160 Mainers take their own life each year. This is from a 2009 report that tabulates deaths between 2002-2006. This number seems very likely to escalate given that this time frame represents only the beginning of our military action in Iraq and Afghanistan. Of further concern is the fact that we are currently seeing an average of 22 active and former service members completing suicide EVERY DAY in our country.

Ask the average service person about the quality of VA services. Ask them how many of their brothers and sisters are living in near or below the poverty line. Then consider that a large percentage of them are not eligible for Maine Care.

According to Maine’s chapter of the National Association of Mental Illness 2010 reports, close to 51,000 adults and 13,000 children in our state live with serious mental illness. Maine’s public mental health system provides services to only 33 percent of these folks.

It’s amazing how quickly the pendulum swings these days. The Newton, Connecticut school shooting occurred just six months ago. By all accounts,  Adam Lanza was an able bodied young man. Had he been a Maine resident, he’d likely have been without Maine Care and ineligible for mental health treatment.

I know your feelings about the President, Mr. LePage. Can you recognize that his proposals for expanded mental health services are a drop in the proverbial bucket?

The current standard for adults over 21 and under 65 without dependent children attaining Maine Care is whether or not they qualify for disability status. Are you aware, Governor that the presence of most serious mental illnesses alone is unlikely to qualify a person for Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI)?

My colleagues and I are doing our best to address unmet needs. We are members of organizations like Give An Hour, that allows us to donate our time to active and retired service members and their families. Many of us continue to see Maine Care clients pro bono when they fall off the rolls by virtue of making $100 more a month (the reward for working hard and bettering yourself is losing health insurance).

I understand your concern for the needs of the developmentally disabled (another unfortunate term) in our state and I applaud it. In my 12 years of serving people that comprise this population, I can tell you that their mental health needs aren’t being properly addressed either (for a myriad of reasons).

I understand and respect your concerns about Maine’s fiscal condition. I’ve written to you repeatedly offering to be part of the solution regarding mental health and substance abuse in Maine. I see expanding Medicaid as a very good step in that direction. Regardless of your politics, sir; I publicly ask what are you willing to do to more meaningfully address the problems created by untreated mental illness in Maine?

Jim LaPierre

About Jim LaPierre

Jim LaPierre LCSW CCS is a Recovery Ally, mental health therapist and addictions counselor. He specializes in assisting people in recovery (whether from drugs, alcohol, trauma, depression, anxiety, or past abuse) overcome obstacles and improve their quality of life.