Nov 21, 2019 - Health

Mental health coverage is getting worse

Caitlin Owens, author of Vitals
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Data: Mental Health Treatment and Research Institute; Chart: Axios Visuals

As suicide and overdose rates have increased, mental health and substance abuse insurance coverage has gotten worse, according to a new Milliman report commissioned by the Mental Health Treatment and Research Institute.

Why it matters: Behavioral health treatment often isn't covered by insurance, and it's often unaffordable — including for patients for whom treatment is a matter of life and death.

By the numbers: Coverage of substance abuse treatment was especially bad compared to physical health treatment.

  • The numbers for residential treatment facilities are particularly rough; in 2017, more than 50% of care in these facilities was out of network.

Behavioral health providers are also paid less than physical health providers.

  • Behavioral health providers are paid, on average, less than the Medicare rate, while primary care doctors and physical health specialists make more than the Medicare rate.
  • These low rates can discourage providers from joining insurance networks.

My thought bubble: If we're going to make a serious attempt to tackle suicide and overdose rates, enforcing the requirement that mental health care be covered the same way physical health care is would be a good place to start.

Go deeper: Why we're failing to stop teen suicide

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