Washington Consumers Struggle to Access Therapist Services

By Consumers For Quality Care, on January 21, 2022

Washington Consumers Struggle to Access Therapist Services

Washingtonians must take great lengths, and wait, sometimes for months, to find the right therapist, according to reporting from The Seattle Times.

Canh Tran, a therapist himself, sought a therapist of his own to work through his symptoms of anxiety and depression as the result of the tragic death of his entire immediate family, which occurred in the mid-2000s when he was away at college. Despite an in-depth knowledge of the mental health care system, Tran spent months trying to prove to his insurance company that seeing a therapist was medically necessary, and only after he was approved was he responsible for finding a clinician.

In Washington and around the country, the gulf between the needs of those seeking therapy and the capacity of the mental health workforce to provide care is huge. Only 12 percent of Washingtonians live in a place where the public’s mental health needs can be met.

Insurance companies’ policies can create narrow networks that lead to patients having to pay out-of-pocket, an often insurmountable burden for lower income folks, and low insurance reimbursement rates, coupled with the amount of paperwork insurance companies require, can lead to therapists leaving the workforce altogether.

Sadly, according to a CDC survey from late September and early October, about 12 percent of Washingtonians reported needing counseling or therapy, but didn’t get it, and more than 50 percent of Washington adults with a mental illness receive no treatment, a recent report from Mental Health America suggests.

The COVID-19 pandemic has led to a higher demand from patients to seek a therapist, but unfortunately, more than 40 percent of psychologists cannot meet their current demand.

Although the Mental Health Parity and Addiction Equity Act, which was passed by federal lawmakers in 2008, requires benefits for mental health conditions be equal to benefits provided for physical health conditions, insurers can still choose to exclude mental health care from their coverage plans.

The barriers for consumers attempting to access mental health services is daunting, leaving too many unable to get the help they need. CQC calls on insurers to remove red tape that makes accessing and providing mental health services challenging, and urges lawmakers and regulators to require insurers to ensure these services are available and covered for those who need it.