Available Mental Health Professionals Expand Under Medicare

Nov 30, 2023 at 07:36 am by Matt

Medicare is taking a significant stride in expanding seniors' access to mental health care by incorporating more mental health professionals like marriage and family therapists and mental health counselors into its roster of covered providers, effective January 1. This initiative aims to tackle a persistent problem where many elderly individuals, despite grappling with mental health issues, encounter difficulties in securing appropriate care due to limitations in Medicare coverage.

The experience of Lynn Cooper in Pittsburgh serves as an illustration of the challenges older adults face in obtaining mental health services through Medicare. Upon turning 65 and enrolling in Medicare, Cooper, who depended on counseling for mental well-being, encountered obstacles in obtaining mental health services. Traditionally, Medicare only covered services provided by specific professionals like psychiatrists, psychologists, licensed clinical social workers, and psychiatric nurses. However, with a significant number of mental health professionals opting out of the program due to inadequate payments and bureaucratic obstacles, older adults encountered hurdles in accessing sufficient assistance.

Workforce Of Mental Health Professionals

To address this issue, changes in legislation and regulations are broadening the range of behavioral health providers covered by Medicare. Starting in January, marriage and family therapists and mental health counselors, constituting over 40% of the workforce of licensed mental health professionals, will be eligible to offer services under Medicare. This development is particularly vital in rural areas where accessibility to mental health care is often restricted.

Moreover, Medicare is augmenting its mental health services by introducing intensive outpatient care for up to 19 hours a week. Additionally, enhancements include better navigation and peer-support services for severe mental illnesses and an expansion of mobile crisis services for in-home or street treatments.

Advocates For Improved Mental Health Coverage

Advocates for improved mental health coverage in Medicare view these changes as a potential turning point in ensuring enhanced access to care for older adults. However, challenges persist, such as ensuring fair reimbursement for mental health counselors and family therapists accepting Medicare patients. Questions also arise regarding the incorporation of these providers into Medicare Advantage plans and the necessity for legislation promoting mental health parity within Medicare.

While these changes show promise, addressing biases related to the mental health of older adults remains a broader societal challenge. The persisting belief that seniors should endure mental health issues without seeking help underscores the ongoing need for efforts to destigmatize mental health care for the elderly. Recognized as a crucial element of overall healthcare improvements, the improvement of mental healthcare access for seniors is especially crucial as the nation emerges from the COVID-19 pandemic.

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