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'Maybe You Should Pay Them More': Insurance Not Compensating Mental Health Providers

By Stan Bush

DENVER (CBS4)- Mental health care advocates are blaming insurance companies for an alarming gap in service, according to a study.

The survey, conducted by Mental Health America and The Kennedy Forum, concludes that mental health patients are forced to look for care outside of their insurance network seven times more than physical care patients.

Mental Health Colorado
(credit: Mental Health Colorado)

Andrew Romanoff, CEO for Mental Health Colorado blames insurers for not compensating mental health providers, estimates to be 40 percent less than their counterparts in physical care.

"We said 'Maybe you should pay them more. You're not victims of this market, you're shaping this market and that determines in part how many people want to go into this field,'" says Romanoff. "The entire country isn't doing well at compensating mental health professionals."

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Mental Health Colorado CEO Andrew Romanoff (credit: CBS)

Romanoff says eventually someone pays for the mental health problems that go untreated. Whether it is through emergency rooms, jails, or morgues.

"It's not my fault I'm mentally unhealthy, it is my fault that I used substances," says 18-year-old Blake Jones.

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(credit: CBS)

Jones says he turned to heroin when he couldn't get a doctor to treat his bipolar episodes. He was diagnosed with the mental illness when he was 14. Jones says he used street drugs as a way to self-medicate bipolar episodes he could not control.

"Once you have the substance. You choose which way to go, which way to feel because you choose to be up or down."

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(credit: CBS)

His family says he's been turned away from hospitals and doctors' offices. The only time insurance paid for his care was during an overdose on Xanax.

"He went downhill spiraling and saying 'I need help'... our insurance company said take him to the ER. It doesn't help," says Amy Jones, Blake's mother.

Blake's care has cost his family nearly $250,000 out-of-pocket. They says they're lucky and know most families can't afford that.

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(credit: CBS)

Mental health advocates say state and federal authorities need to hold insurers accountable for maintaining robust mental health networks.

"You just feel like nobody is listening. Nobody is out there," says Amy Jones.

Stan Bush is a general assignment reporter at CBS4. His stories can be seen on CBS4 News at 10. Read his bio and follow him on Twitter @StanBushTV.

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