A new study conducted by researchers at the Harvard Medical School shows that access to outpatient psychiatric treatment in Boston is insufficient to meet the needs of those in crisis. The researchers believe that their findings parallel national conditions because the federal health bill is modeled after the health system in Massachusetts. Participants in the study called Blue Cross Blue Shield network mental health providers to obtain a psychiatric appointment. They told the providers that they had received emergency room treatment for depression and were advised to get a psychiatric follow-up within two weeks, signifying they were in need of urgent care. Of 64 providers contacted, only 8 offered appointments, and only four had an available appointment within two weeks. Almost one quarter of the phone calls was never even returned and another 23 percent of providers advised the participants to obtain a referral from a primary care doctor first.
“People with mental health problems often can’t advocate for themselves – especially in a crisis,” said Dr. J. Wesley Boyd, an attending psychiatrist at the Harvard-affiliated Cambridge Health Alliance, and lead author. “Health insurers know this and yet, thanks to their restrictive provider networks and their low reimbursement rates for psychiatric services, they’ve created a situation where a patient with a potentially life-threatening disorder, such as the severe depression portrayed in our callers’ scenario, is essentially abandoned at a time of great need.” He added, “How likely is it that a real patient in the grip of severe depression would persevere through so many unsuccessful attempts?”
Dr. Rachel Nardin, chief of neurology at Cambridge Health Alliance and senior author of the study, said: “Lack of adequate access to mental health care strains our entire health care system.” He added that one solution, “would be to remove private insurers from the picture altogether and to establish a single-payer national health insurance program – a program that would cover mental health services as part of its comprehensive benefits package.”
© Copyright 2011 by By Noah Rubinstein, LMFT, LMHC, therapist in Olympia, Washington. All Rights Reserved. Permission to publish granted to GoodTherapy.org.
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