The COVID-19 pandemic has brought to light a multitude of healthcare challenges and inadequacies. Especially as the need for mental health increases, accessible and affordable mental health services are almost impossible to find. This has been a problem for decades, but as COVID-19 continues, 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 the first nine months of COVID-19 alone, the United States saw twice as many, with anxiety increasing by 50 percent and depression by 44 percent. For adults ages 18 to 29, the rates rose even more sharply, to 65 percent and 61 percent.
Social isolation, closures and mandates, fear of death and illness, increased stress from losing a job or different work environment, and grief from losing loved ones are just a few of the factors that have contributed to the inevitable increase in mental illness. But the most frightening and inexcusable problem facing sufferers is very simple – affordable mental health services are not readily available in our healthcare system.
In July, the 988 suicide prevention line was launched and has achieved remarkable results. In August, the system received more than 360,000 calls, SMS and chats. There is an urgent need for improved access to services that help those in need.
The biggest obstacle to accessible mental health services in our country is large insurance companies, which often limit coverage and intentionally create tight networks to increase profits. Unfortunately, this is not new; So pervasive is the idea that American patients can’t afford adequate care because of insurer greed that “Last Week Tonight” host John Oliver alluded to their sheer gluttony in a recent monologue.
According to Bloomberg, some insurers have created ghost markets, which are provider insurance directories filled with doctors who don’t take on new patients or aren’t part of that insurer’s coverage network. Some information listed in these directories even goes to deceased clinicians or are completely bogus phone numbers. This is a common tactic that creates a barrier between patients and providers, resulting in many Americans not being able to access the help they desperately need.
Even when patients are able to turn to an in-network provider, they are often retrospectively denied coverage. Oliver found that one reviewer hired by Anthem had an average rejection rate of 92 percent when it came to requests for coverage; and unfortunately he was not alone.
This lack of coverage not only leaves American patients without care, but also exacerbates the shortage of providers, clinics, and hospitals trying to help. According to the Association for Behavioral Healthcare, 13 clinicians entering psychiatric hospitals leave the workforce.
It’s troubling how much patients pay, how little mental health providers are compensated, and how much insurers pocket. According to the American Association for Justice, the American insurance industry makes $1 trillion annually from premiums alone. And in the first quarter of this year, the top five health insurance giants earned $262.8 billion. let that sink
We need insurance companies to be held accountable, period. We can no longer sit idly by as five insurance companies make more than $260 billion in three months from restrictive mental health policies as America’s mental health crisis worsens.