Mental health centers see patient surge
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.