Medicare Expands the Roster of Available Mental Health Professionals

by | Nov 3, 2023 | Health

Lynn Cooper was going through an awful time. After losing her job in 2019, she became deeply depressed. Then the covid-19 pandemic hit, and her anxiety went through the roof. Then her cherished therapist — a marriage and family counselor — told Cooper she couldn’t see her once Cooper turned 65 and joined Medicare.

“I was stunned,” said Cooper, who lives in Pittsburgh and depends on counseling to maintain her psychological balance. “I’ve always had the best health insurance a person could have. Then I turned 65 and went on Medicare, and suddenly I had trouble getting mental health services.”

The issue: For decades, Medicare has covered only services provided by psychiatrists, psychologists, licensed clinical social workers, and psychiatric nurses. But with rising demand and many people willing to pay privately for care, 45% of psychiatrists and 54% of psychologists don’t participate in the program. Citing low payments and bureaucratic hassles, more than 124,000 behavioral health practitioners have opted out of Medicare — the most of any medical specialty.

As a result, older adults anxious about worsening health or depressed by the loss of family and friends have substantial difficulty finding professional help. Barriers to care are made more acute by prejudices associated with mental illness and by ageism, which leads some health profession …

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