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Why it’s so hard to find affordable mental health care

Lack of insurance coverage, racial disparities, and too few providers are three barriers facing those seeking mental health resources.
Lack of insurance coverage, racial disparities, and too few providers are three barriers facing those seeking mental health resources.

Nearly a decade ago, only 55 percent of psychiatrists accepted private health insurance.

That number is probably much smaller now among both therapists and psychiatrists — in part because of low reimbursement rates.

The Wall Street Journal reports:

About 34% of people with private insurance said they had difficulty finding a therapist who would accept their coverage, according to a 2016 survey—the most recent data available—of more than 3,100 participants conducted by the National Alliance on Mental Illness, a national mental-health advocacy group. By comparison, 9% said they had difficulty finding an in-network primary-care provider.

Office visits to mental-health providers are more than five times more likely to be out of network than are visits to primary-care providers, according to a 2019 report from Milliman, a consulting firm, which analyzed insurance-claims data. In 2017, 17.2% of mental-health office visits were out of network, compared with 3.2% of primary-care visits, the Milliman report found.

Insurance coverage is one of several barriers for those seeking mental health care. There are also racial disparities and a lack of providers.

We talk with experts about the state of our mental health care system — and how to fix it.

We reached out to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration — SAMHSA (SAM-suh) — about its efforts to bolster care for young kids and communities of color. Here’s what they shared with us: 

The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration funds millions of dollars in grant programs – like Project AWARE, which develops sustainable infrastructure for school-based mental health programs and services – to prioritize the heightened needs of children and young adults. We have also established centers of excellence for training health care professionals, to increase access to culturally relevant, evidence-based treatments and recovery supports for underserved populations. We will continue to advance innovative and comprehensive approaches to addressing the evolving public health needs in the nation’s communities. This means connecting Americans to easy-to-access, culturally appropriate prevention, treatment, and recovery services. Because we know recovery is real and attainable.

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