With Mental Health Insurance, Price Matters | Brown University Media Relations
This study essentially says that seniors will utilize more mental health care services if their out-of-pocket cost is lower. No surprise here. In fact, seniors would do many more things if they were more affordable.
But the conversation that this study triggers and the improper implications of the findings are more disturbing:
1) The is no reason to believe that a study on Medicare beneficiaries is applicable to the population overall. Mental illness is typically much different in cause, treatment and outcome for younger people.
2) The study loses sight of the the overall goal: are we trying to provide parity for all medical treatment or are we trying to increase utilization? If we simply provide one large out-of-pocket deductible - say $5,000 per year as many employer plans now use and then offer 100% coverage after that - then we would certainly see a drop in utilization of all types of medical services and not necessarily see any effect on utilization of mental health care. (Although the stress of such a dramatic stress on limited income seniors would almost certainly manifest as increased mental illness).
3) The big public policy picture goal is to reduce medical costs, not put mental health care providers on equal earnings standards with other medical practitioners. The mental health care industry needs to revaluate its lobbying focus. The public opinion lobbying campaign of the 1990s and early 2000s will not be effective in the next few years.
4) Reducing health care costs will require some unfortunate rationing of care. Such force is inevitable. Mental health care has taken more than its share of this force ad will likely continue to feel this pressure regardless of parity laws.