Men­tal health cen­ters see pa­tient surge

Modern Healthcare - - NEWS - By Vir­gil Dick­son

Many be­hav­ioral health­care providers across the coun­try are re­port­ing sig­nif­i­cantly in­creased de­mand for their ser­vices be­cause of Med­i­caid ex­pan­sion in some states. But they are wor­ried about whether un­der­funded and un­der­staffed men­tal health cen­ters will be able to serve the flood of new clients.

Officials at Ara­pa­hoe/Dou­glas Men­tal Health Net­work and AspenPointe in Colorado say they have no­ticed an uptick in the num­ber of Med­i­caid pa­tients. The Men­tal Health Cen­ter of Den­ver re­ported that calls in­creased from 2,030 in Jan­uary to 2,156 in March, com­pared with 1,500 in March of last year. Life­Long Med­i­cal in Berke­ley, Calif., said that in the past six months, it has seen about 10% more vis­its than in the same pe­riod a year ago.

Men­tal health ad­vo­cates in Rhode Is­land and Ore­gon also say they are see­ing greater de­mand for be­hav­ioral health­care ser­vices.

By 2016, 2 mil­lion pre­vi­ously unin­sured peo­ple be­tween ages 18 and 64 will re­ceive be­hav­ioral health­care ser- vices un­der the Af­ford­able Care Act, HHS es­ti­mated in May. Of those peo­ple, 1.2 mil­lion will be Med­i­caid-el­i­gi­ble, and the other 800,000 will have en­rolled in an Oba­macare ex­change plan.

But states re­duced their men­tal health spend­ing by $4.35 bil­lion be­tween 2009 and 2012, ac­cord­ing to the Na­tional As­so­ci­a­tion of State Men­tal Health Pro­gram Di­rec­tors. Those cuts could limit ac­cess for newly in­sured peo­ple seek­ing care.

At the same time, there are wor­ries about a short­age of qual­i­fied men­tal health pro­fes­sion­als to care for new Med­i­caid pa­tients. “Of­ten, we can’t pay as much. And the work we of­fer, while re­ward­ing, can be very chal­leng­ing,” said Dr. Eric Hen­ley, Life­Long’s chief med­i­cal of­fi­cer.

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