What is Medicare doing to address mental health issues among seniors?

I recently attended a conference organized by the Behavioral Health & Aging Council of Southern Arizona. What I learned:

  • 20% of seniors have alcohol or drug problems.
  • 16% of all suicides are older adults. 84% of those suicides are older men.
  • 36% of older adults surveyed said they had mental health issues.
  • $4 billion have been cut from mental health funding by Congress over the last four years.
  • With all the mass shootings across America, interest in mental health issues has increased in Congress, so maybe they will do something.

Arizona Congressman Ron Barber, who was shot by a young man with mental health problems and a gun in 2011, has a a strong interest in programs that address mental health.  Congressman Barber and Congresswoman Gabby Giffords survived the attack that left six Tucsonans dead.  He said he has 70 co-sponsors for a bill that would restore funding to many mental health programs. He says he has support from Republicans in Congress as well as Democrats.

The bill would increase funds for community-based services; protect the advocacy system for low-income people; and train first responders in dealing with people who have mental health problems.

This sounds like a good idea, but I’m sure it will run up against the slash-and-burn policy of many in the House of Representatives.

Last summer I tried to help a client find a psychiatrist who takes Medicare.  I went through the list provided on Medicare.gov and found that most of the phone numbers were wrong, or that the doctor did not take Medicare any more.  It is actually easier to find a psychiatrist or psychologist with some Medicare Advantage plans because companies like UnitedHealthcare and Health Net have their own behavioral health companies with a long list of contracted providers.  CareMore has its own in-house psychologist in each of their Care Centers.

My experience helping just one client taught me how hard it is to find help for people on Medicare. From the numbers quoted above, the problem is serious and help is seriously lacking.


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