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Survey: Few Americans aware of mental health coverage

Thursday May 22, 2014
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Although 27% of Americans have received treatment or therapy from a mental health professional, few people know health insurers are required to provide coverage for mental health, behavioral health and substance-use disorders that is comparable to coverage for physical health, according to a new survey commissioned by the American Psychological Association.

The Mental Health Parity and Addiction Equity Act was passed in 2008, but only 4% of the Americans surveyed say they are aware of the law despite increased national attention on mental health and access to services. This indicates no increase in awareness of the law since the APA last surveyed on this issue in 2010, according to a news release. The 2014 survey of 1,000 Americans age 18 and older was conducted online from March 7-24 by Harris Poll. In addition, 250 interviews were collected among adults 18 and older who have been treated by a psychologist or mental health professional and used their insurance.

“More access to mental healthcare is the rallying cry, but the simple fact is many people may already have coverage and not know it or not understand how to use it,” Katherine C. Nordal, PhD, APA’s executive director for professional practice, said in a news release. “The mental health parity law, together with the Affordable Care Act, has expanded mental health treatment opportunities to many Americans in need who may otherwise have gone untreated. But laws don’t have the intended effect when people don’t know that they exist.”

Under the parity law, insurance companies must provide mental and behavioral health coverage that is equal to or better than coverage for physical health, with no annual limits or higher co-pays or deductibles for treatment of mental health disorders or substance use. The law applies to most employer-provided health plans and to individual plans purchased through the new state and federal health insurance exchanges.

While the APA survey found that 61% of adults reported that they have adequate mental health coverage, 29% of those surveyed said their insurance has different co-pays or other limits for mental healthcare. Almost one in four (24%) said they aren’t sure if their insurance offers the same coverage for mental and physical health and 56% said their current health insurance provides coverage to see a psychologist or other mental health professional.

According to results from the APA’s survey, when asked why they or a family member would not seek treatment, concern about the cost of treatment was the most frequently cited reason, with more than one in five (22%) saying that cost was a barrier to seeking treatment, which is a 2% increase from the 2010 survey. When asked what information they would need before being treated by a psychologist or mental health professional, 75% said they would need to know if they take insurance, whereas 68% said they would need to know if they are comfortable with their provider.

Those surveyed who had received mental health treatment are more likely to say they would seek treatment for reasons including:
Feeling depressed (65%)
Feeling anxious (46%)
The death of a loved one (36%)
Conflict or tension with a family member (33%)
A life change (31%)

Also, the most common resource for adults when seeking information about mental health treatment is their primary care physician (55% for both the general survey group and those who have used their mental health benefits) followed by their insurer’s list of providers (43% for the general survey group and 49% for mental health benefit users).

Mental health disorders are the leading cause of disability in the United States and Canada. According to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, more than 41 million Americans were estimated to experience mental illness in 2012, the most recent year for which figures are available. SAMHSA also reports that an estimated 10.7 million Americans had an unmet need for mental health treatment.

To view the 2014 Mental Health Parity Survey results and helpful resources developed by the APA — including a consumer guide and an informative video to help educate the public about their mental health coverage — go to http://on.apa.org/parity-law.


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