The COVID-19 pandemic has brought to light a myriad of healthcare challenges and inadequacies. Most notably, as mental health needs surge, accessible and affordable mental health services are nearly impossible to find. This has been a problem for decades, but as COVID-19 continues to linger, the need for these services cannot be ignored.
According to the World Health Organization, the pandemic has increased “the prevalence of anxiety and depression by a massive 25 percent” worldwide. In just the first nine months of COVID-19, the United States saw double that, with anxiety increasing by 50 percent and depression by 44 percent. Among adults aged 18 to 29, the rates increased even more, at 65 percent and 61 percent.
Social isolation, the shutdowns and mandates, fear of death and disease, heightened stress from a lost job or different work environment, and grief from the loss of loved ones are just some of the factors that contributed to the inevitable increase in mental health conditions. But the most frightening and inexcusable problem facing those suffering is very simple – affordable mental health services are not easily accessible in our healthcare system.
In July, the 988 suicide prevention line was launched and has received remarkable results. In August, the system received more than 360,000 calls, texts and chats. There is a deep need for increased access to services that help those in need.
The biggest impediment facing accessible mental health services in our country is Big Insurance often limiting coverage and creating narrow networks on purpose to increase profits. This is unfortunately not new; the idea that American patients cannot afford proper care because of insurers’ greed is so ubiquitous that “Last Week Tonight’s” host, John Oliver, sounded off in a recent monologue pointing out their pure gluttony.
According to Bloomberg, some insurers have created ghost markets, which are insurance directories of providers that are padded with clinicians who don’t take new patients or are not in that insurer’s coverage network. Some listed information in these directories even goes to deceased clinicians or are completely wrong phone numbers. This is a widely used tactic that creates a barrier between patients and providers, which results in many Americans not being able to access the help they desperately need.
Even when patients are able to get in touch with an in-network provider, they are often denied coverage retroactively. Oliver found that a reviewer contracted by Anthem had a denial rate average of 92 percent when it came to coverage requests; and unfortunately, he wasn’t alone.
This lack of coverage is not only leaving American patients without care but it is exacerbating the shortage of providers, clinics and hospitals that are trying to help. According to the Association for Behavioral Healthcare, for every 10 clinicians entering the workforce in mental health clinics, 13 leave.
It is disturbing how much patients are forced to pay, how little mental health providers are being compensated, and how much insurers pocket. According to the American Association for Justice, the American insurance industry makes $1 trillion annually just from premiums. And in the first quarter of this year, the top five health insurance giants made $262.8 billion. Let that sink in.
We need insurance companies to be held accountable, period. We can no longer sit aside and let five insurance companies make more than $260 billion in three months with restrictive mental health policies while America’s mental health crisis is getting worse.