Advocate calls for public coverage for mental-health treatment

by Leo Almazora13 Sep 2017
One mental-health advocate has expressed his support for a government agency’s recommendation to cover mental-health treatments in public plans.

According to Health Quality Ontario, proven mental health treatments from psychologists, nurses, youth counsellors, and social workers should be covered under public health insurance. In an opinion piece published by the Toronto Star, health executive Alex Munter presented arguments and evidence in favour of the recommendation.

“Randomized controlled trials show that cognitive behaviour therapy (CBT) for anxiety noticeably reduces symptoms and improves function in 60% of kids — a better result than medication,” said Munter, who is president and CEO of the Children’s Hospital of Eastern Ontario. “For severe anxiety, a combination of CBT and medication is successful with 80% of patients.”

While there are providers who offer such treatments, Munter said many patients can’t afford them, and the current system provides coverage only for conditions that have gotten to the point where the patient is a threat to himself and others. “For psychology alone, it’s estimated Canadians spend nearly $1 billion annually, out of pocket and through private insurance,” he said.

He argued that Canada’s current setup, which has parallel public and private systems for mental health care, leads to increased costs. While those with the means can get counselling or residential treatment for addiction early on, others who can’t afford it are left untreated and have to line up in the public system. And as those suffering from chronic conditions wait, they get worse.

According to Munter, as the need for acute mental health care increases while public funding stays the same, the capacity to deliver care is slowly eroding. And while initiatives such as programs for at-risk youth and support for college students are being launched, he said they’re just workarounds.

“Add up the cost of all these various programs with private spending on mental health and addictions — and knowing Canada’s annual figure for private spending on health is approaching $60 billion — it’s clear that our country has the means to ensure early, appropriate and ongoing mental health care for all who need it,” he said.


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