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Limited Appointment Availability and Cost Largest Obstacles to Women’s Mental Health Care

Provider availability and cost are major barriers to mental health care access for some women, with cost especially disadvantageous for women who are uninsured, according to a survey of more than 5000 women by Kaiser Family Foundation (KFF).

Global and domestic factors such as the COVID-19 pandemic, the opioid epidemic, and racism have influenced the increasing need for mental health services, especially for women, over the past 2 years, according to responses. The 2022 KFF Women’s Health Survey was conducted to evaluate the current accessibility of mental health care services for a sample of women in the United States.

The study surveyed 5145 women and 1225 men between the ages of 18 and 64 years in the United States. The mostly online survey was conducted from May 10, 2022, to June 7, 2022, via an online invitation with a small financial incentive.

Special attention was paid to appropriately sized subgroups in certain categories such as age-range and racial and ethnic background to allow for substantial sample size.

Half of the women between the ages of 18 to 64 years believed mental health services were needed in the past 2 years, while 35% of men had that same belief. Among those women, 50% were able to obtain an appointment. Ten percent of women that tried to get care couldn’t make an appointment. While 60% of women attempted to make a mental health care appointment, 40% of women did not attempt at all to acquire mental health services.

Younger women between the ages of 18 and 25 years were more likely to report a need for mental health services in that past 2 years (64%) compared with older women between the ages of 50 and 64 years (35%).

More than half (55%) of women with incomes less than 200% of the federal poverty level and those with Medicaid coverage (58%) reported thinking mental health care was needed in the past two years compared to 47% of women with higher incomes and private insurance (47%).

Approximately the same proportions of young Black, Hispanic, and White women reported the need for mental health care (50% to 51%). Young Asian/Pacific Islander women were less likely to report a need (40%).

“While the pandemic fueled violence against Asians and subsequently worsened anxiety and mental health for many, studies have shown that Asians reported greater cultural barriers to help-seeking such as family stigma and concerns about ‘losing face,’” according to the report. “Cultural barriers may influence perceived need of care in addition to help-seeking behaviors.”

Out of the women that looked for care and were unable to receive an appointment, 33% reported that it wasn’t affordable to them. Uninsured people were the most likely to report (60%) that they could not get an appointment because of financial circumstances, with 33% of those that have private health insurance or 30% of those who have Medicaid.

This data aligns with current findings that illustrate provider availability and affordability as 2 of the most dominant obstacles to mental health care, the KFF report pointed out.

In the past 2 years, almost 20% of privately insured women who received mental health care reported that their provider didn’t accept insurance for their most recent visit, with the rest of those surveyed (80%) reporting that their insurance is accepted.

Accepted insurance did not eliminate out-of-pocket cost entirely, however, and half of privately insured women who saw providers that accepted insurance still had out-of-pocket expenses. Of those with private insurance, 36% reported that their provider was completely covered, 52% were partially covered, and 3% were not covered at all.

One possible solution to improve access to mental health care is greater use of telehealth. According to the report, the quality mental health services administered by telehealth was experienced by woman survey respondents was equal to that of in-person mental health services. A majority (69%) said the mental health care they received via a telehealth or telemedicine visit was the same quality as an in-person visit, and 19% actually reported better care in a telehealth visit.

The findings “suggest that future policies affecting telehealth, provider availability, health insurance coverage, and affordability will play a significant role in addressing the demand for mental health care.”

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