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Mental health services wane as insurers appear to skirt parity rules during pandemic

Therapists and other behavioral healthcare providers cut hours, reduced staffs and turned away patients during the pandemic as more Americans experienced depression symptoms and drug overdoses, according to a new report from the Government Accountability Office.

The report on patient access to behavioral healthcare during the COVID-19 crisis also casts doubt on whether insurers are abiding by federal law requiring parity in insurance coverage, which forbids health plans from passing along more of the bill for mental healthcare to patients than they would for medical or surgical care.

The GAO’s findings are “the tip of the iceberg” in how Americans with mental, emotional and substance use disorders are treated differently than those with physical conditions, said JoAnn Volk, a research professor at Georgetown University’s Center on Health Insurance Reforms who studies mental health coverage.

The GAO report, shared before publication exclusively with KHN, paints a picture of an already strained behavioral health system struggling after the pandemic struck to meet the treatment needs of millions of Americans with conditions like alcohol use disorder and post-traumatic stress disorder.

Up to 4 in 10 adults on average reported anxiety or depression symptoms during the pandemic, the report showed, compared with about 1 in 10 adults […]

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