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Is It Difficult to Get Mental Health Care When You’re on Medicaid?

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Across the board, the past year and a half of the COVID-19 pandemic has negatively impacted people’s mental health, creating a great need for support during a difficult, fraught time.

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Healthline’s recent article entitled “Why It’s Not Easy to Access Mental Health Care When You’re Covered by Medicaid” says that the nation’s mental health resources are historically underfunded and strained. There are also shortages in mental health care providers and barriers to accessing mental health care for many on Medicaid — especially people of color.

In June, the Kaiser Family Foundation announced findings that during this same period when our mental health needs increased, Medicaid enrollment also increased exponentially. The foundation reported Medicaid enrollment went up from 71.3 million in February 2020, just as the pandemic started in the US, to 80.5 million in January 2021. The system is also feeling the weight of deficiencies in infrastructure and support for its practitioners, along with the additional challenges that have been brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Earlier this year, the Kaiser Family Foundation reported that about four in 10 adults in the United States reported symptoms of depressive disorder or anxiety over the course of the pandemic. Likewise, a July 2020 tracking poll from Kaiser saw that U.S. adults were experiencing a range of negative symptoms that indicated a downturn in mental health — from 36% reporting trouble sleeping to 12% saying that they increased the consumption of alcohol and other substances. In short, the pandemic’s drastic, traumatic shifts to the ways we work, socialize and ensure the health and safety of ourselves and those around us significantly impacted our mental health.

As far as reaching the mental health needs of their residents, rural and frontier counties in the U.S. have an average of just 1.8 and 1.5 licensed behavioral health providers, respectively, per every 1,000 Medicaid enrollees. Compare that to an average of 6.4 providers in urban counties. The number of people enrolled in Medicaid coverage has also risen at the same time that poor funding, relatively low compensation and job burnout are leaving a lot of providers strained during this pandemic.

“Mental health care is a chronically underfunded sector of the healthcare system,” explained Dr. Amal Trivedi, MPH, professor of health services, policy and practice at Brown University School of Public Health.

“Payment rates are so much lower for mental health care than they are for other types of care, especially specialty care, in general. Many mental health providers do not accept Medicaid coverage and that is often driven by the lower payment rates.”

For most adults under 65, eligibility for a Medicaid program is having an income that is lower than 133% of the federal poverty line, according to the government’s official Medicaid website.

Reference: Healthline (Aug. 19, 2021) “Why It’s Not Easy to Access Mental Health Care When You’re Covered by Medicaid”

Suggested Key Terms: Medicaid, Elder Care, Caregiving, COVID-19 (coronavirus), Senior Health, Mental Health