Trump Blames Shootings on Mental Illness. But He’s Spent the Past 2 Years Trying to Cut Access to Health Coverage.

“His general approach is to make it harder for people to access health coverage.”

Chris Kleponis/Zuma

During an address to the nation on the Monday morning following a weekend in which two mass shootings in the United States left 31 people dead, President Donald Trump deflected the blame for the massacres away from firearm access, saying, “Mental illness and hatred pulls the trigger, not the gun.”

But despite voicing concerns about mental illness, Trump has taken repeated action during his presidency to restrict Americans’ access to health care, including mental health care.

Trump has been a long-time critic of the Affordable Care Act, most recently supporting a lawsuit that aims to strike down the ACA entirely. As Edwin Park, a research professor at the Georgetown University McCourt School of Public Policy, explains, the ACA requires insurers to cover mental health care and bars them from discriminating against individuals with pre-existing conditions, including mental illness.

“The research is very clear that the ACA significantly increased coverage, which in turn increased access to behavioral health treatment, mental health services, treatment for addition, that have all resulted in improved mental health for individuals who gained coverage,” Park said. “If you take that coverage away, certainly that would be a huge negative impact on mental health in the United States.”

Prior to the ACA, popularly known as Obamacare, insurance companies didn’t necessarily have to pay for mental health coverage, and, as a result, 18 percent of people enrolled in private plans didn’t have mental health benefits. The ACA included mental health as one of the 10 “essential benefits” that must be included in all insurance plans sold on the individual or small-group markets. But through the lawsuit and the bills that Republican lawmakers tried to pass in 2017, Trump has spent his presidency trying to erase those essential benefits.

“The Trump administration has worked to roll back the ACA and insurance regulation, moving in the direction of less coverage of mental health, not more,” Larry Levitt, the executive vice president for health policy at the Kaiser Family Foundation, said via email. “The administration is arguing in court that the entire ACA should be overturned, including the expansion of Medicaid and benefit requirements, including for mental health.”

The Trump administration has already diminished access to mental health care by expanding the duration of short-term health plans, so-called “junk insurance” plans that do not have to comply with the ACA and typically don’t include coverage for mental health. “People get stuck in these plans, and if they have a behavioral health issue, they’re gonna likely go without needed care,” Park said.

The connection between mental illness and mass shootings, it should be noted, is weak. Even though research has shown that gun control reduces firearm-related deaths, the United States—which has had more mass shootings than any other country—has failed to pass comprehensive gun control measures. Recent mass shootings have been motivated by racism, anti-Semitism, and anti-immigrant sentiments. But if we were to accept the specious notion that unchecked mental illness was solely responsible for the epidemic of mass shootings in the US, Trump’s efforts to restrict Americans’ access to mental health care would have done more to contribute to the problem than to solve it.

“His general approach is to make it harder for people to access health coverage,” Park said. “As a result, that would make it more difficult to access needed care for behavioral health issues.”

MORE HARD-HITTING JOURNALISM

In 2014, before Donald Trump announced his run for president, we knew we had to do something different to address the fundamental challenge facing journalism: how hard-hitting reporting that can hold the powerful accountable can survive as the bottom falls out of the news business.

Being a nonprofit, we started planning The Moment for Mother Jones, a special campaign to raise $25 million for key investments to make Mother Jones the strongest watchdog it can be. Five years later, readers have stepped up and contributed an astonishing $23 million in gifts and future pledges. This is an incredible statement from the Mother Jones community in the face of huge threats—both economic and political—against the free press.

Read more about The Moment and see what we've been able to accomplish thanks to readers' incredible generosity so far, and please join them today. Your gift will be matched dollar for dollar, up to $500,000 total, during this critical moment for journalism.

We Recommend

Latest

Sign up for our newsletters

Subscribe and we'll send Mother Jones straight to your inbox.

Get our award-winning magazine

Save big on a full year of investigations, ideas, and insights.

Subscribe

Support our journalism

Help Mother Jones' reporters dig deep with a tax-deductible donation.

Donate

We have a new comment system! We are now using Coral, from Vox Media, for comments on all new articles. We'd love your feedback.