New Report Finds Medicare Insufficient To Cover Mental Health Concerns of Retirees

Close up head shot frustrated middle aged 60s woman standing near window, looking in distance, feeling depressed indoors.
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Mental health issues have reached new highs since the start of the pandemic, but the U.S. is falling short when it comes to coverage for older Americans. A new study from the Commonwealth Fund suggested that Medicare mental health coverage is inadequate for U.S. adults over the age of 65 compared to other high-income countries.

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The report, “Comparing Older Adults’ Mental Health Needs and Access to Treatment in the U.S. and Other High-Income Countries,” surveyed more than 18,000 adults age 65 and older in 11 high-income countries.

In the U.S., “Medicare beneficiaries are more likely to report emotional distress or be diagnosed with a mental health need, compared to older adults in other high-income countries,” said Munira Gunja, lead report author and senior researcher for the Commonwealth Fund’s International Program in Health Policy and Practice Innovations, AARP reported.

AARP noted that according to the report, more than a quarter of older adults in the U.S said they have mental health needs, either diagnosed or self-reported. Twenty-six percent of Medicare beneficiaries were also more likely to report putting off mental health care because of costs.

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Proper health care is still too expensive, even with Medicare coverage. “Medicare covers basic preventive services, such as substance abuse screenings and depression screenings. But beyond that, once you’re actually diagnosed with a mental need, whether or not you’ll be covered or be able to afford the actual care that you need — for example, getting psychiatric care or getting the proper drugs — is really up in the air,” said Gunja, as reported by AARP.

There are also too few mental health professionals to meet demand and a limited number of providers who accept Medicare insurance. 

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“Say I’m an independent provider who charges $200 for an hour of psychotherapy,” Daniel Enrique Jimenez, associate professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences at the University of Miami Miller School of Medicine, explained to AARP. “If the patient pays out of pocket, boom, perfect. If not, I have to then spend time trying to get reimbursed. […] It may become not worth it to take insurance.”

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About the Author

Josephine Nesbit is a freelance writer specializing in real estate and personal finance. She grew up in New England but is now based out of Ohio where she attended The Ohio State University and lives with her two toddlers and fiancé. Her work has appeared in print and online publications such as Fox Business and Scotsman Guide.
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