For Americans’ mental health, insurers and lawmakers must act
America is in the middle of a mental health care crisis. While the COVID-19 pandemic greatly worsened this national crisis, it has been years in the making.
Prior to the pandemic, nearly half of the 60 million American adults and children living with mental health conditions reported going without care. A Kaiser Family Foundation (KFF) study from earlier this year found that as many as 25 percent of adults are going without care due to cost, and Black Americans and young people are less likely to have received care. Meanwhile, another KFF study found that the pandemic has only worsened our nation’s mental health crisis – almost 40 percent of adults reported symptoms of anxiety or depression in 2021, nearly quadruple pre-pandemic levels.
A recent report from UNLV found that Nevada ranks poorly when it comes to mental health, despite all the progress that has been made at the state and federal levels. Nevada, however, is not alone when it comes to these issues. Recent research by Impact Research and Public Opinion Strategies on behalf of Consumers for Quality Care (CQC) found that nearly 6-in-10 voters (57 percent) said it’s difficult to find mental health providers that are affordable or covered by insurance. Voters under 50 (69 percent) and those with private insurance (63 percent) reported having even greater difficulties finding a provider, largely due to insurance coverage and costs.
Under the Mental Health Parity and Addiction Equity Act of 2008, which passed with the strong support of my then-boss Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, insurers are required to cover mental health care the same as physical care. However, it is clear that too many Americans still cannot get the care they need, largely due to coverage issues. According to a report from the U.S. Department of Labor, insurers regularly violate these laws, refusing to pay for mental health care or making patients jump through hoops to get care. An investigation of 30 health insurance plans and issuers by three federal agencies found that all thirty were out of compliance with parity laws.
Patients should not have to struggle to get the care they want and deserve, and it is encouraging that the Biden administration is taking steps to address this crisis. During his State of the Union address earlier this year, President Biden announced a comprehensive strategy to bolster mental health care for millions of Americans, providing support to adolescents struggling, strengthening our nation’s crisis response infrastructure, and cracking down on insurers who are not complying with federal laws.
Notably, the president also plans to address this crisis by investing in telehealth for mental health care. During the public health emergency, telehealth became an essential tool for patients seeking both physical and mental care, and at its peak usage, telehealth represented 40% of mental health and substance use visits, as well as 11 percent of other visits. While in-person care has since returned, telehealth usage levels for mental health care remain elevated at 36% of visits, and as the Biden administration seeks to tackle this crisis, this tool will be essential in this fight.
While lawmakers on both sides of the aisle are also working together to address the mental health crisis, any legislation that Congress passes must take on bad insurance policies that prevent patients from getting care and ensure Americans can access telehealth services, both during and after the public health emergency ends. In the meantime, insurers must do their part by working to expand access to mental health services and helping patients access in-network and covered care.
However, the work does not end here. CQC remains committed to fighting for mental health, and we urge the administration, Congress, Nevada’s leaders, and providers to implement solutions that will deliver quality, affordable mental health care for all patients.
Jim Manley is a Capitol Hill veteran and seasoned Democratic communicator with more than two decades of experience working in the U.S. Congress. He formerly served as senior communications advisor and spokesman for then-Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) and the Senate Democratic Caucus. He now serves on the board of directors of Consumers for Quality Care. Follow him at @jamespmanley.