This is the biggest expansion of Medicare's mental health services since 1989. Let's take a look at the problem first.
Until now, Medicare — the federal health insurance for people over 65 or some younger people with disabilities — has only covered services provided by certain mental health professionals like psychiatrists and psychologists.
But many of those professionals — 124,000 of them — have opted out of Medicare mostly due to the fact they don't want to deal with low payments, reimbursement or bureaucratic red tape.
Fewer providers means it's much harder for the 65 million Americans on Medicare to find mental health help. And the need is there.
According to the CDC, 20% of people 55 or older experience some type of mental health concerns. Common conditions include anxiety, severe cognitive impairment, and mood disorders such as depression or bipolar disorder.
Starting Jan. 1st, Medicare is expanding the types of mental health care providers that can accept Medicare. Licensed marriage counselors, family therapists and addiction counselors will all be able to sign up to treat Medicare patients.
This expansion will potentially add more than 400,000 mental health professionals to the mix — but first they have to sign up. It's not clear yet how many new providers my sign up and how quickly they will start seeing patients. The American Association for Marriage and Family Services, for example, conducted a survey and told Axios that 60% of its members are interested in accepting Medicare but only 11% have gone through the Medicare registration process so far.
More providers should be coming online as time goes on, but groups like AARP say Medicare recipients should keep checking the Medicare.gov website for providers and more info on what and how much Medicare will pay.
If you think you need immediate help or need to talk to someone, you can call the Suicide and Crisis Lifeline at 988.
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