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Even with health insurance, many Oklahomans face barriers to mental health care

SHVETS production

A Healthy Minds Policy Initiative study found that barriers to mental health care mean many Oklahomans are either going without or paying high prices for out-of-network services.

The study found the vast majority of mental health providers in the state are out of network with most insurance plans. Companies with the broadest networks only included about 30 percent of the state’s providers.

The study’s authors write when insurance companies provide members with directories of potential providers, they tend to be faulty. Most listings are unreachable, often because the phone number listed has been disconnected.

"The effects of poorly resourced and inaccessible mental health services are well documented, and untreated and undertreated mental illnesses have wide-ranging consequences for people, taxpayers, and systems," the authors wrote. "These include worsening mental health and substance misuse symptoms, poorer academic outcomes for students, involvement of the justice system for people experiencing a mental health crisis, and higher costs for providing treatment in inappropriate settings of care like jails and emergency rooms."

About two million — or one of every two — Oklahomans are enrolled in traditional, private health insurance coverage.

Other key findings from the study released last week include:

  • The majority of behavioral health providers listed by insurance networks appear unavailable or unreachable – many with disconnected phone lines.
  • Even when behavioral health providers are active in the network, many cannot see clients in a timely manner.
  • Network directories offer fewer behavioral health providers for rural Oklahomans and those with complex needs such as substance use treatment.
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Catherine Sweeney was StateImpact Oklahoma's health reporter from 2020 to 2023.
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