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Changes to Medicare increase access to behavioral health services

October 31, 2012
by Shannon Brys, Associate Editor
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Access to behavioral health services has been improved under changes to Medicare plans which go into effect this year. Starting in 2013, behavioral health service screenings, such as screenings for depression and alcohol abuse will be covered under certain Medicare plans. The plans can also choose to cover prescription drugs commonly prescribed for mental health disorders such as benzodiazepines such as Valium and barbiturates for the first time.

“More and more seniors are dealing with behavioral health conditions like depression, anxiety and alcohol abuse,” said Ben Brafman, CEO and founder of Destination Hope, a substance abuse and mental health treatment facility with gender specific treatment (Fort Lauderdale, Fla.) “The expansion of coverage gives more seniors access to behavioral health services without them having to choose between their health and their wallet,” he continued.

According to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), between 1992 and 2008, substance abuse treatment admissions for people 50 and older more than doubled in the United States. As the baby boomer generation continues to grow, admission numbers are expected to continue to rise for behavioral health services.

A study reported by the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) indicates that seniors become increasingly at risk for depression alongside other illnesses and as their ability to function decreases. NIMH reports estimates of major depression in older people living in the community range from less than 1 percent to about 5 percent, but that estimate rises to 13.5 percent in those who require home healthcare and to 11.5 percent in elderly hospital patients.

“Mental health disorders do not necessarily start at a young age. Many people find themselves facing depression or anxiety or even alcohol abuse after the age of 65, especially those that may feel isolated because of other physical health conditions. Just like treating diabetes or heart disease, behavioral health services can give a senior back control in their life,” said Brafman.

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