Americans who want to see a psychiatrist have about a 50-50 shot at being able to use private insurance coverage to help pay for it, according to a new study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) Psychiatry.
The study found that just 55 percent of psychiatrists accepted private health insurance between 2009 and 2010, compared to 90 percent of doctors in other specialties. Psychiatrists also accepted public insurance plans like Medicare (55 percent) and Medicaid (43 percent) at significantly lower rates than other doctors (86 percent and 73 percent, respectively).
Lead study author Dr. Tara Bishop of Weill Cornell Medical College says that the findings underscore one of the reasons that it’s so hard for Americans to get psychiatric care. Over half of all Americans with a mental illness didn’t pursue treatment in 2011 because it was too expensive, according to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA).
Although the study didn’t pinpoint the reasons that psychiatrists turn down insurance, American Psychiatric Association (APA) president Dr. Jeffrey Lieberman told Reuters Health that a shortage of available psychiatrists and low reimbursement rates for mental health services are two major contributing factors.
“Many doctors can’t afford to accept insurance because [insurers] don’t pay them for the time,” said Lieberman. “It involves taking more time with the patient and often treating them with psychotherapy.”
Recent regulations issued by the Obama administration will at least address the reimbursement problem. In November, the administration released final rules on implementing the 2008 Wellstone-Domenici Mental Health Parity and Addiction Equity Act that will require all American insurance companies to cover mental health services in the same way they do other types of medical care.
That includes prohibiting insurers from charging co-pays and deductibles for mental health benefits in a more restrictive way than they do for other types of care and barring insurance companies from placing more prohibitive caps on the number of times a patient with a mental illness can go to a doctor, or the number of days they can stay in a hospital, than they do for other treatments.