Barriers to healthcare access persist for mentally ill patients

Two people in a therapy session
A new study shows that patients with mental illness face greater barriers to access to care than other adults. (Getty/shironosov)

A new study suggests patients in serious psychological distress face barriers to receiving the appropriate amount of care in the U.S. healthcare system.

The study, published in the journal Psychiatric Services, looked at 11 indicators of healthcare access and utilization for individuals with mental illnesses, including overall coverage, ability to afford medications or provider visits, and the frequency with which individuals sought care.

Findings showed that adults with serious psychological distress were far more likely to have issues paying for medications and treatment than the average adult. They were also more likely to encounter delays and changes to their providers related to issues with insurance coverage.

The results include a year of data under the Affordable Care Act, but the study’s authors note that changes to access or affordability could remain unaccounted for in the years following the law’s enactment.

Providers and advocates for mentally ill patients have pointed to mental health’s status as an “essential benefit” in the ACA as a reason for concern surrounding proposals to repeal the law, per previous reporting by FierceHealthcare. Other legislative efforts, such as the Helping Families in Mental Health Crisis Act, have made steps toward improving access to care but continue to fall short, according to advocacy groups.

When mentally ill individuals encounter barriers to treatment, the effect can be a devastating vicious cycle, influencing job and educational performance and further complicating their access to care, Joseph Puyat, M.D., of the Centre for Health Evaluation & Outcome Sciences at the University of British Columbia told Reuters.

Benjamin Cook, director of the Health Equity Research Lab at Cambridge Health Alliance and a Harvard Medical School researcher, also noted that the healthcare system’s complexity can cause issues in and of itself.

“Some with symptoms of depression have a very difficult time mustering up the energy to leave the house, so you can imagine how difficult it is to generate the motivation to understand and navigate the complicated healthcare system,” he told the news agency.