Many Insured Californians Unaware They Have Mental Health Coverage

Many Insured Californians Unaware They Have Mental Health Coverage

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Under the Affordable Care Act, health insurance plans are generally required to provide mental health coverage – but almost half of Californians who have insurance say that a lack of coverage is the reason they haven’t gotten mental health treatment despite needing it.

That’s one of the major findings of a new Field Poll administered on behalf of the California HealthCare Foundation (CHCF).

The survey results point to “gaps in the public’s knowledge about their health insurance and mental health coverage,” according to Field Poll director Mark DiCamillo. “There needs to be greater communication to Californians about the treatment options that are available to them if they have a mental health problem.”

Conducted in June, the poll surveyed just over 2,000 adults in six different languages.

A majority of Californians still don’t know that health insurance plans are generally required to provide coverage on par with the benefits they provide for other medical services. Less than 40 percent of respondents understand the concept of mental health parity – that health insurance plans, with very rare exceptions, have to provide mental health benefits with the same rules about co-pays, deductibles, and coverage limits as other kinds of medical care.

And many people who have insurance have no idea that they likely have mental health benefits and are covered for treatment of issues like depression. Some 47 percent of insured people say that they haven’t accessed mental health treatment that they needed because they didn’t have coverage.

About 30 percent of insured Californians say they don’t know if their insurance includes mental health benefits, and about 10 percent think that their plans provide no coverage.

“Under the Affordable Care Act, generally speaking, all health plans have to provide those kinds of benefits,” says DiCamillo. “Forty percent are unaware that they actually have coverage for mental health-related problems.”

Insured Asian Americans, as well as insured Spanish-speaking Latinos, are the groups least likely to know that they probably have mental health coverage. Less than half of insured Asian Americans and insured Spanish-speaking Latinos think that their health plans provide those benefits.

The poll also measured the public’s opinions about obtaining mental health treatment.

Over 80 percent of respondents believe that treating mental health problems does improve people's lives. But despite that large number, many people express reluctance about actually seeking treatment.

When asked whether they would seek treatment if they had a mental health or substance abuse problem, just over half of adults say they’d be “very likely” to do so. The numbers are lowest among Asian Americans and Spanish-speaking Latinos, with some 41 percent of Asian Americans saying they’d be very likely to get help, and some 47 percent of Spanish-speaking Latinos.

Spanish-speaking Latinos are also the group least likely to believe that mental health treatment can even be effective (67 percent believe it can be helpful).

Overall, about 1 in 5 people say they’d be unlikely to seek help at all, even with insurance coverage.

When asked where they would most like to receive mental health treatment, if they had to get some kind of treatment, the most popular options were getting help from a primary care doctor or from a counselor or psychologist.

Latinos, especially Spanish-speaking Latinos, are more likely than other groups to prefer help from an online crisis hotline, chat service, or other online option. Over half of Latinos, and some 64 percent of Spanish-speaking Latinos, expressed a preference for online services, compared to less than 40 percent of Asian Americans, African Americans, and white non-Hispanics.

DiCamillo suggests that the preference for online help, which is often anonymous in nature, may “point to perhaps the stigma of treating mental health problems.”