September Is Suicide Prevention Month: 3 Ways Medicaid Helps Save Lives

September is Suicide Prevention Awareness Month. The 10th leading cause of death in the U.S., suicide has touched most Americans in some way.

Since 1994, suicide rates in America have jumped 24 percent to the highest they’ve been in 30 years. While disappointed socioeconomic expectations and increased social isolation have undoubtedly contributed to the epidemic, perhaps the greatest contributor is a lack of access to effective mental healthcare and drug and alcohol treatment. Alcohol consumption has increased more than 17 percent in the U.S. since 2005, and alcoholism is the strongest predictor of eventual suicide.

Despite treatment advances, those in poverty are disproportionately shut out from receiving the care they need to prevent suicide. Many organizations and initiatives are dedicated to helping at-risk individuals, but Medicaid is a crucial resource in the fight to prevent suicide.

How Can Medicaid Help?

The Affordable Care Act’s Medicaid expansion to low-income adults remains an important tool for providing mental healthcare to those who need it the most. In 2008, Medicaid expansion in Oregon gave researchers the opportunity to observe the program’s impact on clinical outcomes among more than 6,000 newly covered Oregonians.

The study showed that Medicaid reduces the risk of suicide in several ways:

  1. Medicaid makes it possible to receive a diagnosis.

Unfortunately, suicide is often the last resort of people with untreated chronic depression. So while suicide’s causes are complex, diagnosing and treating depressed individuals remains a powerful preventative measure.

Among low-income Oregon adults studied, Medicaid coverage increased recipients’ chances of receiving a depression diagnosis by nearly 4 percentage points, or a relative increase of 80 percent. Those diagnoses made possible a decrease of more than 9 percent in the studied population’s absolute rate of depression, representing a relative reduction of 30 percent. As with all medical conditions, proper diagnosis is the first step toward recovery.

  1. Medicaid coverage improves preventative care and treatment.

Treatment for suicidal thoughts relies heavily on preventative services. But without access to high-quality healthcare, individuals considering suicide can’t receive the treatment they need. Fortunately, Medicaid covers mental healthcare to treat anxiety and depression as well as drug and alcohol addiction rehabilitative services.

Medicaid coverage led studied Oregonians to report improved access to care, including a 23.75 percent increase in those with a primary care provider. One year after enrolling in Medicaid, almost 8 percent of studied people reported their health was the same or better as the year prior. In terms of mental health, Medicaid coverage improved recipients’ mental health component score by an average of nearly 2 percent.

  1. Medicaid coverage decreases financial hardship.

Financial woes contribute significantly to depression, especially among middle-aged people who grew up with expectations of a brighter future. Consequently, those who are most likely to experience depression are least likely to receive treatment because they aren’t able to afford it.

Medicaid combats suicide’s financial causes on two fronts: It improves recipients’ overall finances, and it makes treatment significantly more affordable. The National Bureau of Economic Research found that Medicaid expansion reduced collection expenses between $600 and $1,000 for individuals who gained coverage.

And in the Oregon study, Medicaid coverage “nearly eliminated” recipients’ catastrophic medical expenditures. Since the ACA’s expansion of Medicaid in 2010, about a third fewer Americans report delaying medical care for financial reasons.


Let’s Make Medicaid Even Stronger

Suicide is on the rise, but political partisanship has reduced our ability to deliver affordable mental healthcare to those in need. Of the 19 states that have refused Medicaid expansion, 14 have suicide rates that exceed the national average. What’s more, the eight states with the lowest suicide rates have all embraced Medicaid expansion. Suicide prevention should be a national effort backed by Medicaid to aid at-risk citizens. With lives on the line, states that haven’t yet expanded Medicaid can’t afford to wait.


If you or a loved one are experiencing risk factors for suicide, get help by calling the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255.

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