Primary Care Physicians Struggle to Get Patients Mental Health Services

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About two-thirds of U.S. primary care physicians reported in 2004–05 that they could not get outpatient mental health services for their patients—a rate that was at least twice as high as for other services, according to a <a href="/publications/journal-article/2009/apr/beyond-parity-primary-care-physicians-perspectives-access">Commonwealth Fund–supported study</a> published by <em>Health Affairs</em>. <br /><br />Conducted by Peter J. Cunningham, Ph.D., a senior fellow at the Center for Studying Health System Change (HSC), the national study found that more than half of the primary care physicians reporting problems getting mental health services for their patients cited lack of or inadequate insurance coverage, health plan barriers, and shortages of mental health providers as "very important" reasons for the difficulty in accessing this care. <br /><br />"From the perspective of primary care physicians, the study findings suggest that lack of access to mental health services is a serious problem—much more serious than for other commonly used medical services," Cunningham said. <br /><br />Although the survey data used for the study preceded passage of the 2008 Wellstone-Domenici Mental Health Parity and Addiction Equity Act of 2008—which mandated mental health parity in private insurance benefits nationally—the researchers found that existing state mental health parity laws had only a modest effect on reducing mental health access disparities. <br /><br />"With the Obama administration and Congress engaged in a historic effort to reform our fragmented health care system, these findings underscore the need to cover everyone with comprehensive and affordable coverage and to move towards a more organized, integrated health system," said Commonwealth Fund Assistant Vice President Sara Collins.