Shortage of therapists could mean longer wait times, higher costs

- As Medicaid expansion ballooned the number of people who became eligible for mental health treatment under the Affordable Care Act, the increased demand put a strain on healthcare providers that still exists to this day.

Almost 40,000 people were able to get help that weren't able to before--a good thing, industry insiders say, though it slowed down the system for everyone looking for therapists. Every region in Minnesota except parts of the Twin Cities and Rochester is now designated as a shortage area by the National Alliance on Mental Illness.

It's a problem that hit home for Heather Czywczynski, who called her provider Tuesday looking for a family counselor.

"When I first looked online, there was nothing," she said. "[When I called] they said, 'Oh I’m sorry, we don’t have any appointments.' I was like, 'Nowhere?' and they said, ‘no appointments available.’"

Czywczynski wasn't happy, and she let them know.

“I said it was ludicrous and she said, 'Yeah it is.' [The other woman] said, 'Yeah I know.'"

Surprisingly enough, the woman on the other end of the line agreed.

"She's not alone," Executive Director of NAMI MN Sue Abderholden said. "It’s very difficult for people to get fast access to any type of mental health processional, particularly psychiatry but also other types of therapists as well."

“It's a nationwide issue,” Czywczynski’s provider told FOX 9. In fact, they’ve attempted to address the issue by adding more than 5,000 practitioners to their behavioral health network over the last five years. 

Abderholden agreed with that assessment, saying that more people go out-of-network for mental healthcare than for any other type of care.

“What we hear all the time is our mental health system is broken and what we’re saying is it’s not broken it’s just being built. We think some of the networks for mental health providers is too small,” Abderholden said.

It's a financial hit Czywczynski says she can stomach, though she worries about others who can't afford the higher co-pays that come with out-of-network practitioners.

"I don’t know what their current plan was--just to wait and hope no one notices? We have to help all the people not just those who can afford to go out of network,” she said. "That works for us, but that’s not going to work for everybody--and that scares me."

The Minnesota Department of Health, however, often does interventions with HMOs and encourages anyone who needs help accessing mental healthcare through their provider to give them a call and register a complaint through the HMO complaint line at 651-201-5176 or -5100.

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