Medicaid’s role in low income individuals access to mental health services

Medicaid plays a significant role in providing treatment for low income individuals with mental health conditions. Medicaid recipients usage of mental health services “is comparable to and sometimes greater” than usage among privately insured individuals, according to a Kaiser Family Foundation (KFF) analysis. In 2015, Medicaid covered 22 percent of nonelderly adults with mental illness and 26 percent of nonelderly adults with serious mental illness. KFF found that Medicaid coverage of mental health services is often more comprehensive than private insurance coverage.

Analysis Findings

The analysis (1) describes individuals with mental health conditions, and (2) compares the mental health needs and the receipt of services among individuals without insurance, with Medicaid, and with private insurance. KFF provided the following findings:

  • Characteristics of nonelderly adults with mental illness. Twenty percent of nonelderly adults have a mental illness. They are predominantly white, female, and under 50. Five percent have a serious mental illness. Most are employed (63 percent), but 4 in ten have low incomes and 22 percent are below poverty. In addition, nonelderly adults with mental illness often have co-morbid conditions.
  • Utilization of mental health services. Most nonelderly adults with mental illness have either Medicaid or private insurance. Those with Medicaid are more likely to receive treatment than those with private insurance or without insurance. In addition, the receipt of psychiatric medication is more common among those individuals covered by Medicaid.

The role of Medicaid expansion

The Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (PPACA) (P.L. 111-148) and the Health Care and Education Reconciliation Act of 2010 (HCERA) (P.L. 111-152), (together referred to as the Affordable Care Act (ACA)) expanded Medicaid coverage to millions of low-income Americans. Sections 2001 and 2002 of the PPACA as amended by 1004 and 1201 of HCERA enabled many low-income individuals with mental health conditions to obtain coverage and access treatment through state Medicaid programs that choose to expand.

KFF pointed out that the American Health Care Act of 2017 (AHCA) (H.R. 1628), introduced by Republicans and passed by the House of Representatives on May 4, 2017 would limit enhanced federal support for the expansion population. The Congressional Budget Office projected that the reduction in federal funds would result in a cut of $834 billion over 10 years. “A reduction in federal funds of this magnitude would likely cause states to decrease Medicaid payment rates, covered services, and/or eligibility, limiting states’ ability to reach people with mental health conditions,” KFF said.