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Report: Mental health needs exceed current state resources

Farmington Press - 4/2/2018

While access to mental health care in the Parkland has long been a concern of the 10-member St. Francois County Mental Health Board (SFCMHB), a new report released by the Missouri Federation of Behavioral Health Advocates makes it clear that the problem is more than local - it's statewide.

The report shows patients struggle with severely limited provider networks and a lack of in-network options offered through private insurance for behavioral healthcare.

The report, titled "Nowhere to Turn," found that compared to outpatient care for medical specialty treatment, mental health therapists and substance use counselors were three times more likely to be out of network, and psychiatric prescribers were twice as likely to be out of network. As a result, health plan members are often forced to pay higher out of network costs for behavioral health.

"While significant progress has been made, people living with mental illness and addictions continue to encounter barriers to receiving necessary treatment," Missouri Federation Co-Chair Mark Utterback said. "Missourians who need mental health and addiction treatment are finding it disproportionately harder to get care than those seeking medical care for physical conditions."

The organization is calling on the state legislature to address this issue through the passage of House Bill 2384, sponsored by Rep. Jay Barnes, R-District 60. The bill would increase fairness in health insurance coverage and hold insurance companies accountable for covering mental health care at the same level as other physical health conditions. It also includes substance use disorders as a component of mental and behavioral health.

"This legislation would be a significant step forward in eliminating discrimination toward mental illness and substance use disorders in health insurance," Utterback said. "The measure has passed out of committee and will go to the full house for a vote."

SFCMHB member Candy Zarcone agrees that people with private health insurance coverage have a difficult time receiving mental health care, but she doubts either the state or federal government will be able to provide a final solution to the problem.

"We cannot look to the state and federal government to solve our problems with mental health here in St. Francois County," she said. "That's in part why the mental health board was formed - because we are going to have to take care of the problem. At some point we're going to have to take ownership of the problem and find solutions right here at home. We've already seen that we can't strictly rely on someone else to fix it."

Zarcone described the mental health care problem in St. Francois County as "huge."

"If your child has a substance abuse issue and they need treatment - whether that's inpatient or outpatient - to the best of my knowledge there is no youth substance abuse treatment facility in the county."

According to Zarcone, SFCMHB is in the process of finalizing a project report that pulls together quantitative and qualitative data from both St. Francois County and the state of Missouri.

"We'll be approaching stakeholders with this proposal to see about funding some solutions," she said. "We have several different pilot projects that we are looking at that we believe might be helpful. We want to try them out and make sure they're a proven strategy before we start trying to finalize those."

Zarcone offers some tips for those who are seeking mental health care for themselves, a family member or a friend.

"First of all, early intervention will bring about faster recovery and it will be easier to find treatment the earlier you seek it - so don't wait," she said. "People can put in their insurance company on our website, www.sfcmentalhealth.com, to find providers who will accept their insurance. There's also fact sheets available that can offer some help.

"Sometimes it's best to use a team approach with mental health problems, so it might take one provider that prescribes medication and then it might take counseling in addition to that. The closest private practice psychiatrist in the area is in Potosi.

"There are none in St. Francois County, but they don't normally provide counseling anyway - they prescribe medication. But sometimes it's just a matter of being able to tell somebody what you're going through."

 
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