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New Poll: Most Americans Cite Affordability and Availability of In-Network Providers as Priorities and Barriers to Mental Health and Addiction Treatment

Headshot of Joann Donnellan
Joann Donnellan

Washington, DC – A new national poll conducted by the Bipartisan Policy Center and Morning Consult on patients’ experiences receiving mental health and substance use treatment services during the pandemic reaffirms the challenges Americans face in accessing affordable and available treatment. A majority of Americans say the cost of a provider (58%) and whether the provider is in their insurance network (58%) are their top priorities when seeking treatment. However, they consider affordability (51%) and availability of providers taking new patients (41%) to be the two largest barriers to getting the help they need.

BPC designed this poll for National Mental Health Awareness Month to better understand the pandemic’s impact on adults receiving mental health and addiction treatment, barriers to services, and the role of primary care providers in treating patients with behavioral health needs. Even before COVID-19, there was an unmet need for treatment. More than half of adults with a mental health condition did not receive services in 2020.

The survey found that during the pandemic nearly as many adults received mental health and substance use treatment through their primary care provider (39%) as they did from a behavioral health specialist (45%) and adults were equally satisfied with their care from both types of providers. Those living in rural areas were more likely to get care through a primary care provider (44%), and those in urban (38%) and suburban (37%) areas were more likely to receive their care through a psychiatrist, psychologist, or other mental health and substance use specialist. Moreover, 70% of adults agree that it would be more convenient if their treatment was integrated into their primary care doctor’s office.

Key findings also show that people want more flexibility in the way they receive treatment. Since the pandemic began, telehealth visits have surged due to temporary waivers by Congress and the administration. According to the poll, just as many adults across ethnicities have used telehealth (23%) and in-person (23%) mental health and addiction services during COVID-19, with adults in the 18-44 age group receiving the most treatment. And almost 40% of adults say they prefer receiving treatment through a mix of video calls, phone calls, and in-person visits, while 41% of adults prefer in-person appointments.

“As the demand for mental health and addiction services continue to rise, it’s critical that policymakers design policies that make treatment options more affordable, more available, and more flexible,” said Marilyn Serafini, BPC health project director. “This survey shows that we must tackle the high cost and the enormous shortage of mental health professionals in our country by advancing the integration of primary care and mental health and substance use services. We know integrated care works. It enhances treatment, improves outcomes, and is cost effective.”

BPC has called on the Biden administration and Congress to advance the integration of primary care and mental health and substance use services to close the treatment gap that is expected to persist long after the pandemic. BPC’s latest report offers recommendations that focus on four key areas: 1) establishing core, minimum standards essential for integration, 2) driving integration in new and existing value-based payment structures in Medicare and Medicaid, 3) expanding, training, and diversifying the workforce for integrated care teams, and 4) promoting the use of electronic health records, telehealth, and other technology to increase access to care and advance integration.

Morning Consult surveyed 2,200 adults online between April 29-May 2, 2021, for this national poll.

View the survey results.

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