Just as more and more attention is being paid to the importance of mental health care, a new study reveals that access to psychiatrists is decreasing. Erin Billups takes a closer look at what could grow to be a major issue as millions more Americans get health insurance.
There's been a recent push to integrate mental health care with physical health care.
But, Tara Bishop, a physician and researcher at Weill Cornell Medical College, says fostering true integration has grown increasingly difficult.
"A colleague and I were discussing how hard it is to find psychiatric care for primary care patients,” said Dr. Bishop.
So they conducted a study and discovered that about half of psychiatrists in the country do not accept health insurance.
"There is such a big difference, almost a 30 percentage point difference in acceptance rates between psychiatrist and physicians of other specialties, about 80 to 90 percent of those physicians take insurance,” said Dr. Bishop.
Columbia University psychiatrist Grant Mitchell says decades of discrimination against mental health professionals is why he and others do not take insurance.
"If you went to see a psychiatrist for an outpatient visit, you were reimbursed for 50 percent. If you went to a medical doctor, you were reimbursed for 80 percent of that fee,” said Dr. Mitchell.
Dr. Mitchell says many psychiatrists also have solo practices with no staff and can't afford the extra paperwork.
The data Bishop used for her study came from 2005 to 2010 statistics. Since then, Obamacare has begun gradually raising reimbursements.
But with more and more people getting insurance and less and less practicing psychiatrists, Dr. Mitchell says more needs to be done to meet the growing needs.
"Often times mental health is paid for by one company and your physical health is reimbursed by another even within the umbrella of a single insurance company,” Dr. Mitchell said. “It really revolves around changing the finance mechanisms to encourage integrated care."
So finding a mental health professional can be daunting, but there are resources available.
LifeNet is a city-funded help line that does some of that legwork for you.
"We ask as many questions as we can to get a sense of what their needs are,” said Gloria Jetter, LifeNet clinical supervisor. “If someone doesn’t have insurance we would try to direct them to a clinic or a counseling center that does a sliding fee.”
Dr. Mitchell says he and many other psychiatrists also have sliding fees based on income.
For information on LifeNet and other mental health services offered by New York City, go to www.nyc.gov.