Spending on mental health services leaped over 50% in the early years of the pandemic among Americans with private insurance, researchers from RAND Corp. and healthcare company Castlight Health found, as concerns surrounding the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic on mental health continue to swirl.
From 2019 to 2022, usage of mental healthcare services—for anxiety disorders, PTSD, major depressive disorder, bipolar disorder and schizophrenia—increased by 38.8% among adults with private insurance, according to a study published Friday in JAMA Health Forum.
Spending on mental health services increased even more—by 53.7%—among privately-insured adults during the same period.
The study broke down mental health care usage by three phrases: pre-pandemic, the acute phase of the pandemic and post-acute phase of the pandemic.
During the acute phase of the pandemic (March 2020 to December 2020) in-person services declined 40%, but telehealth services increased 10-fold.
In the post-acute period—December 2020 to August 2022—telehealth services stabilized at 10 times the pre-pandemic levels and in-person services increased about 2% monthly.
By August 2022, in-person visits were around 80% of what they were pre-pandemic even as telehealth visits remained well above pre-Covid levels.
What To Watch For
Researchers expect these trends to change following the end of the formal public health emergency, though it’s unclear whether the change will include insurers stopping coverage for mental health televisits in a post-pandemic world, or continuing to fund them.
Throughout the pandemic, concern around mental health issues skyrocketed as people were forced inside and had limited social interactions. Last October, a KFF survey of the public found that 90% of people thought there was a mental health crisis in the U.S., and nearly half of parents surveyed said the pandemic had a negative impact on their children’s mental health. A Pew Research Center survey found adults were also worried about themselves: 41% of U.S. adults said they’d experienced “high levels of psychological distress at some point during the pandemic.” Doctors and researchers—including the ones behind Friday’s study—have said the increase in mental health concerns and treatment showcase the need for behavioral care to be folded into primary care practices rather than operating as a separate entity, as it often can. Dena Bravata, co-author of the study, said that, by integrating behavioral and physical health, “growing issues around lack of access, affordability and stigma” can be addressed while providing more comprehensive care.