Limited Appointment Availability and Costs Major Barriers to Women’s Mental Health Care

Provider availability and cost are major barriers to accessing mental health care for some women, with cost particularly disadvantageous for women who are uninsured, according to a survey of more than 5,000 women by the Kaiser Family Foundation (KFF).

Global and domestic factors such as the COVID-19 pandemic, the opioid epidemic and racism have influenced the growing need for mental health services, particularly for women, over the past 2 years, according to responses. The 2022 KFF Women’s Health Survey was conducted to assess the current affordability of mental health care services for a sample of women in the United States.

The study surveyed 5,145 women and 1,225 men aged 18 to 64 in the United States. The mostly online survey was conducted from May 10, 2022 to June 7, 2022, via an online invitation with a small financial incentive.

Particular attention was paid to appropriately sized subgroups in certain categories such as age range and racial and ethnic origin to allow for a substantial sample size.

Half of women aged 18-64 believed mental health services had been needed in the past 2 years, while 35% of men felt the same belief. Among these women, 50% were able to get an appointment. Ten percent of women who sought treatment failed to make an appointment. While 60% of women attempted to make a mental health appointment, 40% of women did not attempt to acquire mental health services at all.

Younger women aged 18-25 were more likely to report a need for mental health services in the past 2 years (64%) than older women aged 50-64 (35%).

More than half (55%) of women with incomes below 200% of the federal poverty level and those with Medicaid coverage (58%) reported that they thought mental health care was needed in the past two years compared with 47 % of women with higher incomes and private insurance (47%).

Approximately equal proportions of black, Hispanic, and white young women reported needing mental health care (50% to 51%). Young Asian/Pacific Islander women were less likely to report a need (40%).

“As the pandemic fueled violence against Asians and subsequently worsened the anxiety and mental health of many, studies have shown that Asians have reported greater cultural barriers to seeking help, such as family stigma and concerns about the ‘loss of face,'” according to the report. “Cultural barriers can influence perceived need for care as well as help-seeking behaviors.”

Of the women who sought assistance and were unable to get an appointment, 33% reported that it was not convenient for them. Uninsured people were the most likely (60%) to report being unable to get an appointment due to financial circumstances, with 33% of those having private health insurance or 30% of those having Medicaid.

These data are in line with current findings that illustrate the availability and affordability of providers as 2 of the top barriers to mental health care, the KFF report pointed out.

Over the past 2 years, nearly 20% of privately insured women receiving mental health care reported that their provider did not accept insurance for their most recent visit, while the rest of respondents (80%) reported reported that their insurance has been accepted.

However, accepted insurance did not eliminate out-of-pocket costs entirely, and half of the privately insured women who saw providers who accepted insurance still had out-of-pocket expenses. Of those with private insurance, 36% reported their provider was fully covered, 52% partially covered, and 3% not covered at all.

One possible solution to improve access to mental health care is increased use of telehealth. According to the report, the quality of telehealth-administered mental health services experienced by the women interviewed was equal to that of in-person mental health services. A majority (69%) said the mental health care they received through a telehealth or telehealth visit was of the same quality as an in-person visit, and 19% actually reported better care at a telehealth visit .

The findings “suggest that future policies affecting telehealth, provider availability, health insurance coverage, and affordability will play a significant role in addressing demand for mental health care.”

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