Mental Health Care Sees Largest Expansion to Date, Still Faces Obstacles

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The Affordable Care Act has paved the way for one of the largest expansions of mental health care coverage in a generation, but it is still hitting obst...

The Affordable Care Act has paved the way for one of the largest expansions of mental health care coverage in a generation, but it is still hitting obstacles when it comes to providing that care to individuals.

According to a report by the New York Times, the state of Kentucky has been trying to overhaul its mental health system by allowing private psychologists and social workers accept Medicaid patients for the first time. More than 1,000 private mental health providers across the state have signed up to treat Medicaid enrollees.

State officials say this change is crucial, as 85 percent of the 521,000 residents who received coverage through the state’s new insurance exchange this year were poor enough to enroll in Medicaid.

But many private therapists are still refusing to accept Medicaid, saying the paperwork takes too much time and the poor – the group who has seen the biggest expansion of mental health care – are too challenging to treat, states the report.

In the city of Louisville, which has a population of 600,000, most Medicaid enrollees are going to four adult mental health clinics run by Seven Counties, a non-profit group that provides regional health care.

Kelly Gannon, COO of the group, told the Times that calls to the agency’s access line were up by more than 40 percent this year.

Nearly one in five Americans has a diagnosable mental illness, according to the Department of Health and Human Services, but most do not get the treatment they need. Under the Affordable Care Act, mental health treatment is an “essential” benefit that must be covered by Medicaid and every private plan sold through the new online insurance marketplaces.

Advocates say that if the law provides widespread access to mental health care as it intends, then it will not only reduce personal suffering but also exorbitant economic costs, like the higher rate of general health problems among those with mental illnesses, and lost productivity. 

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