LA Times: Healthcare law may close gaps in mental health coverage

Half the state’s adults and two-thirds of adolescents with mental illness aren’t getting treatment. But new research finds that the disabled and poor could get comprehensive care.

Mental health care

Kimberly Eckford, 49, nervously rubs her hands together while speaking about her depression for the first time with a therapist at T.H.E. Clinic. (Gina Ferazzi / Los Angeles Times / June 3, 2013)

By Anna Gorman

July 17, 2013, 12:17 a.m.


A disjointed financing system for mental health services in California has led to gaps in care, but the national healthcare law is expected to help close some of those holes, according to new research by the California HealthCare Foundation.

Half of the state’s adults and two-thirds of the adolescents with mental health issues aren’t receiving treatment, according to the study.

Private insurance has historically lacked mental health services, so patients often seek care through the public system. Nearly $7.8 billion in public money was spent in fiscal year 2012-13 on mental health care, with the largest share — $3.3 billion — paying for Medi-Cal beneficiaries.

Counties must stretch the resources they have to care for people with mental health issues, often serving only those with the most serious problems, said Sandra Shewry, director of state health policy at the foundation. Over the last two decades, the state has seen a reduction of inpatient and residential care and an increase in outpatient treatment.

The Affordable Care Act, however, is expected to improve access for many. The law expands who is eligible for Medi-Cal, the coverage program for poor and disabled residents, enabling them to get comprehensive mental health services, and California residents purchasing insurance through the healthcare marketplace will also have access to mental health care.

“We should be seeing the opportunity for that whole infrastructure to bulk up to meet the demand,” she said.

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