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Lower mental health co-pays do not help seniors seek care
Date:2/8/2011

PROVIDENCE, R.I. [Brown University] Despite the intent of recent mental health "parity" legislation, including the Affordable Care Act, even steep reductions in co-pays for outpatient mental health care will not motivate more seniors in managed care plans to seek that care, according to a new study by Brown University researchers.

Parity measures, included in laws passed in 2008 and 2010, end an insurance industry practice of charging higher co-pays for mental health care than for other care. While the laws will allow many seniors who undergo treatment to save money, said Amal Trivedi, professor of community health at Brown University, the new findings suggest that co-pays are not the main barrier to care.

In the study published online Feb. 4 in the journal Medical Care, Trivedi and graduate student Chima Ndumele found that seniors did not start mental health care when co-pays dropped and did not quit when they rose.

"Less than half of people with a mental health condition actually seek mental health services," said Trivedi. "The hope was that insurance parity and reducing co-pays would increase the number of people who would do so. We found that's unlikely to be the case. At least for this population in managed care plans, rather large increases or decreases in co-pays have no effect on the likelihood of receiving any outpatient mental health care."

A measurable non-effect

To perform their analysis, Trivedi and Ndumele combed through 252 Medicare plans with outpatient mental health services. They ultimately found 14 that raised co-pay rates by more than 25 percent in the last year of a three-year period, and that could be compared to plans that were similar except that they held co-pay rates constant. They also found three plans that lowered rates by more than 25 percent in a third year that could also be compared to comparable control plans that did not change their co-pay.

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Contact: David Orenstein
david_orenstein@brown.edu
401-863-1862
Brown University
Source:Eurekalert

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