April 30,2021

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Wyden: New GAO Analysis Shows Urgent Need to Increase Mental Health Care Access and

Watchdog Report Reveals Severe Shortage of Mental Health Care Amid Surge in Demand During the Pandemic

Washington, D.C. – Senate Finance Committee Chair Ron Wyden, D-Ore., today released a new GAO report showing a dramatic increase in demand for mental health care during the COVID-19 pandemic, straining part of the health care system that faced accessibility and affordability challenges prior to increases in anxiety and depression corresponding to the pandemic.

“Underlying the global pandemic is a five-alarm fire when it comes to the state of Americans’ mental health,” Wyden said. “The pandemic has made access to mental health care more urgent than ever while worsening long-standing shortcomings in the system. Mental health and physical health ought to be on the same footing in America’s health care system, and I will be using my position as Chairman of the Finance Committee to make that a reality.” 

GAO’s analysis of CDC data found that Americans reporting symptoms of anxiety or depression increased nearly fourfold during the pandemic – from 11 percent to 38 percent. An additional survey of mental health care providers found that more than two-thirds reported demand for their services increasing and having to cancel or reschedule patient appointments or turn patients away.

Interviews with mental health care providers also indicated that claims for behavioral health services were more likely to be delayed or denied than claims for physical health services, despite federal law stating insurance companies cannot treat mental health or substance use disorder services less favorably than medical or surgical services. However, GAO underscored the limited data in this space, noting that these information gaps may be the result of challenges providers and patients face in identifying and reporting mental health parity violations.

Wyden requested a GAO study into mental health access in May of last year, as the full toll of the pandemic on Americans’ mental health began to be felt. This report emerged from that research.

The full report from GAO can be found here