Study: Patients with serious psychological distress still have more problems getting and paying for care

Dive Brief:

  • Adults with serious psychological distress (SPD) are more likely to lack money for medication and healthcare and experience more delays in care than adults without it, according to a new study.

  • The researchers from New York University Langone Medical Center used data from the 2006-2014 National Health Interview Survey and assessed 11 access, utilization and functional indicators​ among adults aged from 18 to 64. 

  • They found that adults with SPD who lacked health coverage and money to buy prescriptions increased during the study period despite legislation enacted to help patients who need mental health services.

Dive Insight:

The study states that 3.4% of the U.S. population suffers from SPD. That’s 8.3 million people and it's slightly more than the 3% figure that a previous survey revealed. Researchers concluded that people with SPD had more trouble with access to healthcare services compared to those who did not have psychological distress.

Two federal healthcare laws implemented over the past few years – the Mental Health Parity and Addiction Equity Act and the Affordable Care Act – include provisions to help those seeking care for mental health issues. That makes the study findings particularly alarming. 

Other notable findings include: 9.5% of distressed Americans in 2014 did not have health insurance that allowed them to see a psychiatrist or counselor, which is slightly more than 9% in 2006; 10.5% of those with SPD delayed professional help because of insufficient mental health coverage in 2014, compared to 9.5% in 2006; and 9.9% of those with SPD could not afford psychiatric medications in 2014, which was an increase from 8.7% in 2006.

"Although our analysis does not give concrete reasons why mental health services are diminishing, it could be from shortages in professional help, increased costs of care not covered by insurance, the great recession, and other reasons worthy of further investigation," lead study investigator and research manager in the Department of Medicine at NYU Langone Judith Weissman said in a statement

One possible way to improve mental health services and reduce barriers to care is through greater use of telehealth services, which can connect mental health doctors to patients in their home environment. Yet until reimbursements for providing telehealth catch up to those for office visits, it could continue to remain a largely untapped tool for mental health services.

Also, senior study investigator and NYU Langone clinical professor Cheryl Pegus argued the study "supports health policies designed to incorporate mental health services and screenings into every physician's practice through the use of electronic medical records, and by providing training for all health care professionals, as well as the right resources for patients." 

Filed Under: Payer Policy & Regulation
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