More seniors interested in mental health care, yet most don't know about Medicare benefits

Despite more seniors increasingly willing to seek mental health care, most do not know with certainty that Medicare provides benefits, a new survey (PDF) found. 

The survey, conducted by eHealth, a private health insurance marketplace, reached more than 3,800 eHealth Medicare customers aged 65 and older in February 2022. 

More than a third of respondents reported an increased sense of loneliness or isolation related to the pandemic. Nearly half reported being “very willing” to seek mental health care, compared to just over a third before the pandemic. (Overall, 53% have received some mental health services in the past.)

Yet more than 6 in 10 did not know for certain that Medicare provides mental health care benefits. White, Republican seniors were the least likely to be informed on benefits. Nearly a third cited cost as the top reason they may avoid seeking care, followed by not understanding benefits and not knowing where to turn for help. Only 4% cited social stigma as the top reason they may avoid mental health care.

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While most (66%) said they are just as willing to discuss mental health care as any other form of medical care with their physician, more than half (51%) have never talked about it with their doctor. Those ages 65 to 70 were most likely to have had such a conversation, while those in their 80s were the least likely.

Nearly three-quarters of respondents said mental health benefits are important to them when choosing a health plan; 38% said mental health benefits are “very important” when choosing a plan. 

About a quarter of seniors surveyed reported experiencing anxiety, and about one-fifth each reported depression and loneliness. More than a third each said their feelings may be related to financial stress, politics and current events or worry about the pandemic.