The Known Unknown: Behavioral Health in America

Healthcare issues have been at the forefront of the American political consciousness for quite some time, especially given the attention paid to the “Obamacare” debate and rollout. While the topic is broad and rather encompassing, there are certain elements within the industry that get left behind in such discourse.

A Minimized Issue With Hope

Mental and behavioral health issues are often discussed following tragic events, but these issues exist for many Americans who don’t make the newsreels. Many behavioral health providers don’t accept insurance for treatment of such illnesses, placing a significant burden – and sometimes stigma – on those who are suffering from these afflictions. Part of the problem with behavioral health issues is that they are hard to pin down and difficult for medical professionals to quantify – often there aren’t tangible measurements to be made.

Progress is being made, however, as the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services has addressed mental health issues and certain reimbursements exist. The Institute of Medicine also held a workshop to address the ways in which the Affordable Care Act’s provisions could improve the behavioral health of children and adolescents.

This progress offers some hope for future improvements, but many unaddressed issues still persist regarding behavioral health. These issues often work in conjunction with or compound other afflictions – chronic diseases being especially impacted.

Breaking Down Walls

As previously mentioned, one of the biggest hurdles to overcome regarding behavioral health is that insurance may cover treatment but providers may not accept this coverage. Though there are some programs and provisions that address certain mental health issues, there isn’t much of an umbrella coverage available for those who suffer from these illnesses. While the healthcare debate often stalls at the federal level, some states have sought to address mental health concerns.

The Nebraska State Senate has identified the problem, and a special legislative committee has recommended more oversight and funding for mental health services, according to the Lexington Herald Leader. The Golden State has also hopped on board, as the California Association of Marriage and Family Therapists recently urged residents to explore mental health coverage options during the healthcare open enrollment period. This type of state-level advocacy and action often puts the patient in charge of their own healthcare needs.

“This is really about being an advocate for your own health care and your own mental health needs,” said CAMFT President-Elect Patricia Ravitz, licensed marriage and family therapist.

But, not all states are supporting their residents. Also, when it comes to mental healthcare, people often need help determining how best to treat their illnesses. The Las Vegas Sun explored the treatment options available in Nevada, and found that many people were unable to get the long-term treatment required to adequately address their issues. In fact, one doctor noted the scope of the problem in a shocking historic comparison.

“We call it the polio of our generation,” Dr. Jay Fisher of the Children’s Hospital of Nevada told the Sun. “This is a health crisis of unbelievable proportions.”

Technology to the Rescue?

There may be some hope for sufferers, however, as technology has provided some of the affected with a way to connect with therapists and seasoned medical professionals. According to The Washington Post, certain physicians have been able to refer patients to help via digital and virtual channels.

This approach is looking to address a lack of behavioral health services in certain areas of the country, as one program is hoping to cover it’s patients’ mental health needs and “leveraging virtual care to do so.” Medical industry veterans believe there may be some validity to such a program, especially given the need for patients to be included in the overall general healthcare system.

“I definitely think it’s one to watch,” Melinda Abrams, a vice president at the Commonwealth Fund, told the Post. “Mental health has been stigmatized and separated, but experience and data show that people will be healthier if they are in fact, treated together.”