On Wednesday, March 30th, 2022 the Senate Finance Committee continued their series on mental health with a hearing entitled ‘Behavioral Health Care When Americans Need It: Ensuring Parity and Care Integration.’ Chairman Ron Wyden (D-OR) emphasized the need to hold insurance companies accountable for not adhering to parity laws. Wyden referenced a recent GAO report, which revealed continued challenges of finding in-network providers. Wyden drew attention to ‘ghost networks’, or inaccurate provider directories, noting that due to ghost networks, in 83% of instances families could not get an appointment for a child or adolescent psychiatrist.
All witnesses called for increased mental health parity enforcement and for an extension of current parity laws to Medicare beneficiaries. The witnesses also pushed for integration of mental health services with primary care. Currently, it takes 8-10 years to reach a child with the proper mental healthcare services and 50% of children fall through the cracks when they are referred to a specialist. Pediatricians serve as first responders to children’s needs and pairing them with psychologists and psychiatrists within their primary practices would give pediatricians the resources necessary to identify the correct services for children while decreasing the burden on families.
This hearing also echoed the themes of the other mental health hearings, with continued calls to expand community and school-based programs to increase accessibility of care to students in addition to expanding telehealth services in rural areas.