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The Uninsured Files: People With Mental Health Problems Less Likely to Have Access to Care

Cost of care remains a significant obstacle

BHM Edit Staff | 10/16/2013, 12:55 p.m.
Those with mental health problems at high risk of being uninsured.

In news that is hardly surprising, a recent study from the University of Minnesota found that people with mental health problems are more likely to be uninsured. The cost of mental health services is a major concern, though public insurance coverage provides the most affordable way for sufferers to access treatment.

The study, which reviewed national insurance coverage rates from 1999 to 2010, acknowledges that the implementation of the Affordable Care Act will give many more people with mental health problems access to health insurance, especially those who live in states that have opted to expand Medicaid.

“Unfortunately, most persons with mental illness do not receive needed care due in part to a lack of health insurance coverage and the cost of treatment,” says Kathleen Rowan, the lead author of the study and a doctoral student in health services research, policy and administration at the University of Minnesota School of Public Health. “Although access has been pretty stable over the past decade, there are still persistent problems with accessing needed care.”

The study also found:

  • In 2009-10, nearly one-half of people with the most serious mental health problems were covered by public insurance, compared to only 10 percent of adults with no mental health problems.
  • About two-thirds of people with serious mental health problems saw a mental health professional recently, compared to 60 percent of those with private health insurance.
  • For people receiving public health coverage, one-third of those with serious mental health problems and nearly one-half of those with moderate mental health problems did not see a mental health care professional in the past year.
  • No evidence was found in the improvement to access over the past decade for those with public coverage for either moderate or severe problems, or for those with serious problems on private coverage.

“The Affordable Care Act has great promise for expanding insurance coverage for people with mental health problems—both through expansions in Medicaid and private health insurance exchanges,” says Donna McAlpine, a co-author of the study. “But as it rolls out, we need to keep our eye on how it affects access to mental health care, especially costs.”

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