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Demand Overload for Mental Health Services

PHOTO:  Mental health advocates worry there won't be enough providers and prescribers to deliver services to those that need mental health care, including substance abuse treatment, in the state's new health marketplace, known as "kynect."  Photo courtesy kynect.
PHOTO: Mental health advocates worry there won't be enough providers and prescribers to deliver services to those that need mental health care, including substance abuse treatment, in the state's new health marketplace, known as "kynect." Photo courtesy kynect.
September 26, 2013

FRANKFORT, Ky. - Mental health advocates in Kentucky predict there will be a shortage of help available to meet the demand for treatment of mental health issues under the new health care law (Affordable Care Act). Those services, including treatment for substance abuse, must be included in any health insurance plan sold in Kentucky.

That's a good thing, according to Sheila Schuster, who heads the Kentucky Mental Health Coalition. On the downside, however, she said there are not enough providers or prescribers for mental health care.

"We have some shortages, there's no doubt about it, and most of those shortages are in the rural areas, although there are pockets of them even in the urban areas. One of the shortages is among psychiatrists," Schuster said.

Enrollment for insurance through Kentucky's health benefits marketplace, known as "kynect," begins Oct. 1. The insurance takes effect Jan. 1. Currently, 640,000 people, about 15 percent of the state's population, are uninsured.

Gov. Steve Beshear said the list of 10 essential benefits covered under the new health care law is "more robust than previously required."

"We're particularly thrilled with the mental health care requirement because this is one area where Kentucky has long been lacking, especially in the area of substance-abuse treatment."

While mental health advocates applaud the fact that those services are on the must-cover list, with things such as a visit to a doctor's office, hospital, lab or E.R., access is the rub. For example, Schuster said she fears it will be "quite difficult" to get people with substance-use disorders into treatment.

"I think that we're going to have to be very creative about removing barriers. I think we need to make use of what we call the 12-step programs," she said.

The new law requires full parity between how insurance plans handle behavioral health and physical health cases, she added, saying treatment of mental health has been saddled by "artificial limits."

"I used to say to people, 'You know, you'd never buy a policy that said if you get cancer you only get five chemo treatments,'" Schuster said.

Information about Kentucky's health benefits marketplace is at target="parent">www.kynect.com.

Greg Stotelmyer , Public News Service - KY