Note pad on a table with numerous descriptive words about mental health next to a cup of coffee

A push to expand access to mental health care

© HowLettery - iStock-1474328051
Mark Richardson

Click play to listen to this article.

Audio file

(United States News Service) Mental health care advocates are encouraging federal agencies to adopt a proposed update to regulations which would expand access to psychological care.

The rules, proposed by the agencies late last year, would require insurance companies to cover mental health services much the same way as they do services for other medical or surgical care.

Hannah Wesolowski, chief advocacy officer for the National Alliance on Mental Illness, said such parity is long overdue. She pointed out many people seeking mental health care either cannot get access or insurance coverage.

PROMO Health - Mental Behavioral Compass Well-Being Words - iStock - Olivier Le Moal

© iStock - Olivier Le Moal

"There is a well-documented youth mental health crisis," Wesolowski emphasized. "People are struggling and they need care, and that's why people pay for insurance, to be able to access that care. And so, we need to make sure it's available for everyone."

Wesolowski argued stricter rules are needed because, according to data from the advocacy group Inseparable, two of three people who wanted mental health treatment last year did not receive it. She added 95 percent of the almost 1,000 comments received on the proposal favor its adoption.

Wesolowski stressed a large part of the problem is an increase in demand coupled with a shortage of qualified mental health providers. She added the nation's ongoing mental health and overdose crisis took more than 150,000 American lives last year. 

"Even with insurance, people with mental illness often have no option but to get out-of-network care," Wesolowski explained. "That often makes the care unaffordable. And mental health services, especially in the midst of mental health crises, should not be a case of the haves and have-nots."

She reported a CNN/Kaiser Family Foundation poll found nearly two-thirds of voters have seen insurance companies' denial of mental health coverage. In the same poll, almost 90 percent of voters said expanding access to mental health care should be an important priority for elected officials.