Mental Health Patients Wait Months for Care Due to Parity Issues

Last week, we told you about the months-long wait times for mental health care. This week, we dig into the reasons why. The problem of long waitlists was thought to be over in 2008 when President George W. Bush signed the Mental Health Parity and Addiction Equity Act. This legislation requires insurers to cover mental health care no differently than treatment for physical conditions. But there was a catch: the law was supposed to be enforced by the states, and many were slow to do so. Today, Missouri and Oklahoma are the only states that don't enforce the law. Officials in Missouri insist they don't have the authority to uphold the federal law, and as it remains unenforced the cases of suicide, depression, and substance abuse in the state continue to rise.

Psychiatrists and other mental health specialists say reimbursement rates for services add to the problem. Medicaid rates are considered too low by most doctors, and in recent years, the number of psychiatrists taking new Medicaid patients has dropped to around one in three nationally. Private insurance is problematic as well. In Missouri, private insurance pays less than 80% of Medicare rates, among the lowest rates in the U.S. The one saving factor is that Missouri community mental health centers still take Medicaid and provide free care in some cases. However, about 60% of Missouri counties have no practicing psychiatrists.

November 15, 2019 - 3:55pm

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