Mental health barriers

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JEFFERSON CITY - A state survey reported Missourians are less likely to find mental health services within their insurance network than they are primary care or specialist work.

The Missouri Federation of Behavioral Health Advocates released its study on Tuesday detailing the extent of the lack of mental health care options.

It found mental health therapists and substance abuse counselors were three times more likely to be out of network compared to medical specialty treatment. Psychiatric prescribers were twice as likely to be out of network.

In the report, Missouri Federation co-chair Mark Utterback emphasized the increased difficulties faced by people with mental health needs.

"While significant progress has been made, people living with mental illness and addictions continue to encounter barriers to receiving necessary treatment," he  said.

The Missouri chapter of the National Alliance on Mental Illness, is a part of the Missouri Federation of Behavioral Health Advocates. The organization's Executive Director Gena Terlizzi said the report's purpose was to identify gaps in behavioral health coverage.

"What the report found is that, yes, there are gaps in services that are available for individuals that have mental healthcare needs," Terilizzi said. "Especially when you compare those with seeking other treatments for more physical healthcare."

According to the report, 14.6 percent of behavioral health visits were with out-of-network providers compared to 2.9 percent for primary care and 4.2 percent for medical specialty visits.

Terlizzi said, while the out-of-state distinction may not appear significant upon first glance, it matters when considering cost.

"Most people, if they look at their insurance cards, can see their rates on the back and you will pay significantly more to see an out of network provider," she said.

Terlizzi said this creates more barriers in terms of finding and traveling to providers within reach.

In the report, the Missouri Federation of Behavioral Health Advocates voiced support for a bill proposed by Rep. Jay Barnes, R- Cole, that looks to reduce barriers to adequate mental health services.

Terlizzi said, "It levels the playing field for behavioral health care when you compare it to other medical treatments."

The bill has passed through two House committees.