Psychiatric Services Difficult to Get Even for the Insured

A new study from Harvard University shows that there are difficulties in obtaining access to private outpatient psychiatric care in the Boston, Chicago and Houston metropolitan areas. Difficulties in getting psychiatric services are experienced even for those with private insurances or those which are willing to pay out of pocket.

The researches, posing themselves on the phone as patients seeking appointments with individual psychiatrists, encountered numerous obstacles, including unreturned phone calls, wrong numbers and providers who were no longer taking new patients. They were only able to meet success in a quarter of their attempts, even after two tries.

The researchers made telephone calls to 360 psychiatrists, 120 psychiatrists in each metro area, who were listed in the Blue Cross and Blue Shield (BCBS) database of in-network providers. The callers posed themselves as patients with BCBS PPO Insurance or Medicare or as people willing to pay out of their own pocket.

The researchers utilized the BCBS database for it is the largest provider of Health Insurance in the states of Massachusetts, Illinois and Texas. The psychiatrists listed in the database were located within a 10-mile radius of suburban ZIP codes in Boston, Chicago and Houston.

Among the 360 psychiatrists that were called, the “simulate patients” were only able to obtain appointments with only 93 of the said psychiatrists, resulting to only 26 percent. In addition to this, the 15 percent of practices were already full with psychiatric services appointments and were no longer accepting new patients. Another 10 percent of them that were identified by the BCBS directory did not see general adult outpatients.

These findings add to the growing evidence that the mental health system is very difficult for consumers to access. It also shows that the national data demonstrating that two-thirds of primary care physicians cannot obtain outpatient mental health services for patients who badly needs them.

The research to tell us that having health insurances, whether premium or not,is not enough to guarantee access to outpatient psychiatric care.

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