As the National Alliance on Mental Illness of New Jersey prepares for its annual conference on Saturday, Dec. 2 at the Ramada Conference Center in Jamesburg, there is a lot of concern about how changes to the tax code will affect health care.

NAMI is a statewide nonprofit organization dedicated to improving the lives of individuals and families who are affected by mental illness through programs of support, education and advocacy.

Volunteer and behavioral healthcare advocate Rocky Schwartz says there is a lot of concern about the potential tax bill from Congress — that the individual mandate for those who really need health insurance may be taken away.

"The Affordable Care Act has essential health benefits. One of them requires that behavioral health care be treated exactly the same or on par with medical surgical benefits. Losing that will put our consumers and people who need behavioral health care at high risk."

She says there's also a concern with the tax reform that the tax deduction for medical expenses is going to be eliminated.

Schwartz says most psychiatrists, psychologists and therapists are out-of-network. So it's difficult to find access for one and it's even harder to find one that is in-network. If you have to go in-patient for substance abuse or psychiatric stay for more than three to five days, she says it's out-of-pocket.

The proposed tax bill, according to Schwartz, is going to take away that tax deduction for medical expenses. So another goal for NAMI is to preserve Medicaid funding. Many people who have severe mental illness are on Medicaid and the Medicaid expansion has helped people in need dramatically in New Jersey.

Schwartz also belongs to the New Jersey Parity Coalition, which is trying to get a bill passed in New Jersey that will enforce the federal parity laws that were passed in 2008. The Assembly overwhelmingly passed it in January 2017 but it has not been taken up by the state Senate.

Schwartz believes Gov.-elect Phil Murphy will be supportive of NAMI's issues but a lot of it is dependent on the money coming from the federal government. She also says Gov. Chris Christie released $200 million for this year to be spent on the treatment of those with substance abuse and to expand the number of patient beds. That money is for this year only so he hopes Murphy will continue to provide substantial funding for substance abuse treatment. There's long wait lists for people waiting to get into treatment.

Schwartz says there is discrimination against people with mental illness and substance abuse. That discrimination leads to less funding, less access to care and that is what NAMI fights for on a daily basis.

The NAMI conference being held next month will host speakers offering information on the newly developed First Episode Psychosis Treatment Centers and on therapeutic interventions for those affected by mental illness. For more information about the conference, visit the NAMI NJ website at

Jen Ursillo is the midday news anchor on New Jersey 101.5. You can reach her at

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