The New York Times published an article earlier this month detailing the mental health issues that older adults in the United States are currently facing and exposing how the COVID-19 pandemic has exacerbated an already growing problem of older adults struggling with anxiety, depression, addiction, and loneliness.
According to a survey from the Kaiser Family Foundation conducted in August, one in four people over the age of 65 reported feeling anxiety and depression. The article details conversations with older adults who have struggled with mental health issues as well as with finding a provider to help them.
A large portion of the article is devoted to addressing the fact that mental health counselors and marriage and family therapists are not covered by Medicare. Matthew Fullen, PhD, MDiv, MA, a counselor educator at Virginia Tech who has done extensive research on the impact the two professions would have on the Medicare program, was interviewed for the piece. In his research, Dr. Fullen found that half of the 3,500 practicing professional counselors and marriage and family therapists surveyed had turned away patients because they were unable to accept Medicare. In addition, other researchers at George Mason University found that only 36% of mental health providers accepted any new Medicare patients, meaning that existing providers in Medicare are not meeting the needs of the population.
“Medicare recipients deserve equitable access to mental health care, and this article from TheNew York Times illuminates why it is so important to include counselors as Medicare-approved providers,” Dr. Fullen said. “Articles like this raise the public’s awareness of the Medicare mental health coverage gap, which is an essential part of client and professional advocacy.”
This article is a very important step in making the general public aware of what counselors do and in what settings those services are covered. Most people are not aware that services provided by mental health counselors are not covered by Medicare. Even fewer realize that professional counselors, along with marriage and family therapists, comprise 40% of the behavioral health workforce in the United States. The research that Dr. Fullen is doing, along with an article like this in a national news outlet, are critical to seeing S. 286/H.R. 945, the Mental Health Access Improvement Act, passed by Congress.