U.S. Senator Thom Tillis of North Carolina says Congress should find ways to close gaps in health insurance coverage after sharing his own experience with mental illness.
At a Wednesdsay forum hosted by the Washington Post, Tillis said he was diagnosed with pharmacologically induced mania after taking steroids for a rare illness ten years ago. He did not disclose which illness, but called it "an incurable, potentially fatal disease." He said he then suffered from clinical depression for nearly two months after the treatment was over.
"I really do believe that we have to make sure that people understand that today's society views this as an illness on par with a physical illness," Tillis said about his decision to come forward.
"Those who have done it need to be prepared to talk about it. I had some staff say, 'Why on Earth would you talk about your personal experience?' I said, 'That's a part of the problem; people not doing that.'"
Tillis said he found that many of his friends and family did not understand mental illness.
"They had these platitude sort of solutions like, 'Go fishing or go surfing,'" Tillis said. "'Just do that or go shopping,' and you have the same challenge for dealing with people with Alzheimer's and demetia. We need to better educate the population on how they can help get people who are suffering with mental illness to someone who can help them."
Tillis praised North Carolina's recent health care overhaul, which expanded provider-led accountable care organizations. State lawmakers did not expand the Medicaid program - which provides health insurance to low-income and disabled people - under the Affordable Care Act.
Tillis suggested he would not be against Medicaid expansion if the system were what he characterized as more efficient and more financially stable. He said he thought there might be middle ground between members of Congress who do and do not want to expand Medicaid.
"Right now it's just become an 'either-or.' I think there's something in the middle that would probably address the fundamental concerns of people on either side of the aisle that just want a political win; that there's a way to do it where you can expand care, but bend the curve," Tillis said.
The Senator said any policy changes would likely have to be small and incremental in order to pass Congress.