Study reveals mental health care providers are hard to find in Colorado

Anastasiya Bolton, KUSA

DENVER – Results of a national study released Thursday revealed mental health care providers are difficult to find, hard to pay for and often make less than other physicians.

The study was sponsored by Mental Health Colorado’s national organization Mental Health America, The Kennedy Forum, and other large mental health and substance use organizations.“

“The study shows that mental health providers aren’t making as much as other health care providers and as a result,” said Andrew Romanoff, president and CEO of Mental Health Colorado. “Consumers are faced with very few options. They have to go out of network seven times as often to get mental health care as they do other kinds of health care. It’s one of the reasons we’ve heard from so many Coloradoans that even though they’re paying for insurance policies, they’re not getting the care they’re paying for. People are struggling and suffering and in some cases dying as a result.”

Other findings include that in Colorado, mental health providers get paid 40 percent less than physical health providers. Also, the state of Colorado does worse than most states in regards to having mental health patients go out of network for inpatient or outpatient care.

“Consumers are not finding enough mental health providers in their networks,” Romanoff said. “No surprise if you pay mental health care providers less, chances are you won’t find enough of them and you won’t keep the ones you’ve got.”

“So for insurance industry to say we can’t find enough providers either is not a good excuse,” Romanoff added. “They’re not just victims of this market, they’re shaping it. They set the reimbursement rates that determines in part, how many job applicants they find.”

Romanoff said state and federal laws require your mental health coverage to be equal to the health care coverage.

The State Division of Insurance told 9NEWS it recently started an audit of insurance companies providing services and selling insurance in Colorado to see if they’re meeting that requirement.

“An exam (or audit) to determine if health insurance carriers are meeting the requirements of the mental health parity law. And if they are not meeting the requirements, why and what are the insurance carriers doing to remedy the situation,” explained Vincent Plymell, communications manager for the Division of Insurance, in an email statement.

The audit will be done next October.

If you want to file a complaint about your insurance coverage, you can call 303.894.7490, or email dora_insurance@state.co.us.

You can also reach Mental Health Colorado and share your experiences, you can find them here

America’s Health Insurance Plans — a trade association representing health insurers — said it’s still looking at the study, but in general said there is a well-known shortage of behavioral health providers.

Read their email in full below:

“That the mission of health insurance providers is to ensure patients have access to high quality, affordable care, including behavioral health care. Overall, we strongly support mental health parity laws and legislation, and plans work diligently to ensure that mental health treatment is covered at levels that are on par with physical health treatment.

Further, plans are even going above and beyond mental health parity using innovative techniques to coordinate and integrate mental health with medical and physical health care.

Health plans regularly assess the adequacy of their provider networks so patients have timely access to behavioral health care while accepted metrics are used to track and improve patients’ outcomes. They also actively recruit behavioral health clinicians, help patients navigate the system to ensure care coordination, and monitor the availability of appointments and help members get appointments when needed. Many plans are also using telemedicine to augment their network capacity, creating behavioral health homes for patients, and even embedding behavioral health providers in primary care doctors’ offices.

However, there is a well-documented national shortage of behavioral health providers –  coupled with many clinicians who opt to not participate in health plan networks –  resulting in patients having to pay out-of-pocket for treatment or forgo altogether. Overall, we need more behavioral health experts, uniform accreditation standards to ensure patients are getting good care, and continued integration of mental health into patients’ overall health.”


This story originally appeared on 9News.