Mental Health Care Providers Scarce Despite New Benefits

Millions of Americans with mental illness are hearing a loud and clear message: Get help. There’s still one question: Who is going to treat them? The shortage of mental health providers in the U.S. has long been considered a significant problem. But it is becoming more acute as people are encouraged to seek treatment, or find they are able to afford it for the first time as a result of new federal requirements that guarantee mental health coverage in insurance plans. That’s prompting a sea of change in attitudes among mental health advocates, who are starting to look at solutions that are broader than just training more psychiatrists. Some 96.5 million Americans were living in areas with shortages of mental health providers as of September 2014, according to an assessment by the Health Resources and Services Administration, a unit of the Department of Health and Human Services. That number is up from around 91 million in 2012. Explanations for the shortage of psychiatrists include the long pipeline for training them, as well as low pay and high turnover for some positions. The attempted solutions have often mirrored proposals for addressing the national shortage of primary care physicians — and have had few successes in making a dent in the problem. There has been no increase in federally funded residency slots to train physicians, despite provider groups pushing hard for this for more than 15 years. Federal payments to incentivize people to work in areas that find it particularly hard to attract physicians, meanwhile, have succeeded in alleviating some of the most acute shortages, but have done little to address the broad shortage that persists nationwide. The result is a growing acceptance that psychiatrists aren’t the only acceptable mental health providers, even from groups that have long resisted this.

Source/more: Wall Street Journal 

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