One in five adults in the U.S. suffer from a mental health condition, yet only about half of those needing treatment receive care. What’s keeping so many people from treatment?
Mental Health Provider Shortage
Finding a provider is often the first challenge.
More than 122 million Americans live in an area with a shortage of mental health professionals. And the stress and trauma of the pandemic have only increased the need.
Expanded telehealth services and prescription digital therapeutics have helped fill the gap. Yet lack of providers coupled with ongoing concerns about COVID-19 exposure are still keeping some patients from proper care.
But just getting an appointment with a mental health professional is only the first hurdle. For many, getting sufficient insurance coverage is the next battle.
Insufficient Insurance Coverage
Subpar coverage keeps some patients from accessing necessary care at all. For others, inadequate coverage forces them out of care before they are ready.
Unreasonable limits on the number of visits to a mental health counselor or psychologist, for example, can leave patients in a lurch mid-year. Similar restrictions on visits to treat conditions such as diabetes or asthma generally don’t exist. That difference is due to a lack of parity in coverage.
By definition, parity means equitable access to health care for the treatment of both physical and mental conditions. Parity is federal law, but exemptions by state and local governments, as well as other loopholes, are often used to circumvent the law.
Many insurers intentionally limit coverage in the name of cutting costs. Such an approach often results in gaps in mental health coverage.
Time for Action
The pandemic laid bare the gaps in mental health services and the ongoing lack of parity, despite existing laws. Now, federal policymakers are being called to revisit mental health policy and lower barriers to care. And some are taking note.
On World Suicide Prevention Day, September 9, President Joe Biden renewed his administration’s commitment to mental health with a proposal of $180 million to fund suicide prevention programs at the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. And Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) called out “concerning” practices of insurance companies that dodge paying for behavioral health service as contributing to the current mental health crisis.
The challenges of recognizing a mental health issue and finding a provider are difficult enough. Insurance barriers and limitations should not be piled on to patients’ burdens. It’s the ideal time for Congress to revisit loopholes that keep mental and physical health from being equitably covered by insurers.