Healthcare Business News

Costs block millions from seeking mental-health treatment

By Virgil Dickson
Posted: September 4, 2014 - 3:45 pm ET

Millions did not seek treatment for mental-health and substance-abuse issues last year, not because they didn't want to address their problems, but because they lacked insurance coverage or couldn't afford it, according to a report released Thursday by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) (PDF).

In 2013, 20.2 million people ages 12 and up were in need of substance-abuse treatment, according to the report. However, only a few people in this population agreed they needed help. Of those individuals, many didn't get treatment, the lead reason cited being they lacked coverage or couldn't afford it. In addition, an estimated 43.8 million adults 18 and over were dealing with a mental illnesses not related to substance abuse. However, 9.2 million of them did not receive mental healthcare, with a lack of coverage or affordability also believed to have played a part in these situations, said SAMHSA Administrator Pamela Hyde said at a news conference Thursday.

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The findings mean that more work needs to be done to promote that the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act plans being offered on exchanges cover both substance-abuse treatment and mental-health visits as essential benefits, Hyde said.

Coverage expansion means that there will likely be an increase in demand for these services at a time when there's already a shortage of mental-health and service professionals, said Paolo del Vecchio, director of mental-health services at SAMHSA.

Concerns about staffing shortages have prompted the federal agency to support the use of peer providers, del Vecchio said. These individuals may or may not be certified, but instead use their life experiences of recovery from mental illness and/or addiction to aid someone else's treatment.

They can be crucial in helping someone get the treatment they need, according to Briana Williams, a suicide attempt survivor who works with youth at a peer-run recovery support center in California.

“Some of the most helpful therapy I received was from people with mental-health issues,” Williams said at the news conference. “They put a face on recovery.”

Follow Virgil Dickson on Twitter: @MHvdickson

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