“The petition is designed so we can send it to senators and representatives in any state,” he said. “It is specifically targeted towards Congress, not towards the executive branch. Our intention right now is to have medical students in states that have a senator or representative that we think would be favorable to our ideas, have them present it.”
Dotson said in the future, the group plans to actively work with congressional members.
Sue Tolleson-Rinehart, a professor in the Gillings School of Global Public Health, said it is important for UNC students to be engaged with health reform so they understand the type of medical and political climate they might be entering.
“Our students are wonderful at thinking about how to assist and better the condition of people who really need help — and people with mental illness are no exception,” she said.
Ciara Zachary, a health policy analyst for the NC Justice Center, said she thinks students have an important role to play in health care advocacy, especially mental or behavioral health.
“It has also benefitted the budgets of health providers and even states, so we do need to have more student advocates and other people share their stories about why the ACA or closing the Medicaid coverage gap would be important to them gaining the coverage and the care they need to be productive contributors to their communities and to the state,” she said.
Zachary said there has been a lot of progress made in recent years with regard to health care and one important component is recognizing the necessity of integrating mental and physical health care.
“A lot of mental health conditions are chronic conditions, so we would want to address people’s concerns about being diabetic in the same way we would address someone who has a substance abuse disorder or someone who suffers from depression,” she said.
“So, we want to integrate these things so that people can have all their health care needs addressed, and have it recognized that you can’t just address physical health, you also need to address people’s behavioral and mental health.”