A Healthy Blog

Massachusetts health care — wonky, with a healthy dose of reality

Overcoming Barriers to Children’s Mental Health Services

Overcoming Barriers to Children’s Mental Health Services

June 25, 2010

In a recently published report by the Parent/Professional Advocacy League (PAL), parents of children with mental health needs and mental health providers were asked to identify and describe barriers to accessing treatment for kids. Results of the study showed a common trend: parents struggled most with out-of-pocket expenses, access to specialists, and finding community support for their child.

While national and state health care reform laws have addressed many problems preventing access to health care overall, improvements to access for mental health services still lag behind.

Expenses and coordination of care were reported most problematic.

Out-of-pocket expenses are high for essential treatments and services for children with mental health needs as compared with those costs for physical illness. Parents reported that copayments associated with frequent therapy, multiple specialists, and medications were prohibitively high. Additionally, expenses associated with travel to providers who accepted the child’s insurance plan, on top of an initial deductible, was a significant burden.

Cost alone is not the only issue. Long waits to get an appointment, obtaining an accurate diagnosis, coordinating care between providers, and insurance coverage limitations on treatment options were also mentioned. In addition to problematic access to medical services, the study revealed that school programs for children with disabilities were often inadequately tailored to address special needs, and the stigma attached to a mental disability often lead to isolation.

Federal and state health care reform laws have improved some access problems to mental health care. New federal laws will eliminates discriminatory practices insurance companies often use against individuals with mental health needs. Minimum Creditable Coverage laws in Massachusetts require compliant insurance plans to offer certain mental health benefits. While these are significant improvements for access to mental health care services, results from the PAL study demonstrate that payment for services is only part of overall access problems.

The Commonwealth has made significant strides over the past few years to improve access to care for children with mental health needs. However, as PAL’s report shows, we still have a long way to go.

The time is NOW to make changes.
-Elizabeth Arnold