Inadequate Mental Health Treatment Hinders Massachusetts Residents

By Beth Leipholtz 12/13/18

Only about 50% of Massachusetts mental health providers accept payment from the state and federal Medicaid program. Private insurance isn’t much better.

mental health care provider talking to patient about finding adequate care

Patients in Massachusetts are struggling to receive adequate mental health care but not because of lack of insurance coverage. 

The Boston Globe reports that based on a new Blue Cross Blue Shield of Massachusetts Foundation survey of 2,201 residents, more than half recently sought mental health or substance use disorder treatment but had difficulty receiving such treatment.

Of those surveyed, 39% went without treatment altogether and about 13% resorted to an emergency room visit even though about half of those admitted that their care was not an emergency. 

Though insured, the majority of patients struggled to find care because certain providers did not take their insurance or because practices were not accepting new clients at the time. 

In October, the Globe reported that Massachusetts was home to more mental health care providers per capita than any other US state. It also has more psychiatrists than any other state, with the exception of Washington, DC, and more child psychiatrists than all states but Rhode Island and DC. 

Even so, residents of the state are struggling. According to The Globe, only about 50% of Massachusetts providers accept payment from the state and federal Medicaid program. And private insurance isn’t much better, as only about half the psychiatrists in the Northeast accept it. 

Audrey Shelto, president of the foundation that conducted the survey, told The Globe that this was the first time since the survey began a decade ago that it asked about mental health and substance use disorder treatment access.  

“If change is going to happen at the magnitude that’s needed, it’s going to be necessary that we start building a more solid evidence base," Shelto said.

According to Shelto and others in the field, one possible solution would be paying psychiatrists, psychologists and social workers more, because private insurers and Medicaid currently do not pay them enough. Those in the practice also spend a great deal of time on applications for insurance networks as well as paperwork for patient treatment. 

According to The Globe, Health and Human Services has stated that between 2016 and 2020, Medicaid is increasing fees to mental health providers by $100 million. 

But Vic DiGravio, president of the Association for Behavioral Healthcare in Natick, told The Globe this isn’t enough to convince more providers to join the program. 

DiGravio adds that access to prescribers such as psychiatrists are one of the biggest battles being faced currently. 

“For a clinic to have a doctor on staff to see patients on a regular basis, the rates don't cover their time,” he said.

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Beth is a Minnesota girl who got sober at age 20. By day she is a website designer, and in her spare time she enjoys writing about recovery at, doing graphic design and spending time with her boyfriend and three dogs. Find Beth on LinkedInInstagram and Twitter.