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Should medicare cover more psychological services?

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On Sun., April 6, I hosted a forum at the River Heights Community Centre to examine a question: should additional psychological services be included under medicare?

It was a full room with many members of the community gathered to consider whether changes to the medicare system in Manitoba should be changed to include additional psychological services. Advocates, health care workers and other community members spoke of individuals with mental health conditions like depression, and the benefit of psychological services in the treatment of their conditions. 

While psychologists’ services are currently covered under medicare for those who are seen by an institution-based (hospital, correctional facility, school) psychologist, there are many people who are placed on a long waiting list (up to two years) for access. The alternative to waiting is to pay for a private, community-based psychologist (not directly associated with an institution).
Unfortunately, many cannot afford this and do not have private insurance coverage for community-based psychological services. 

At the forum we heard of children in our community in need of psychological assessment or intervention for learning or behavioural disorders; or because of the child’s exposure to traumatic incidents.    For these children, the benefits of timely psychological assessment and intervention are invaluable. Too often, children suffer needlessly for many years, rather than being able to access the psychological services necessary for treatment. The reality is that such services for children are not publicly or readily available, and parents cannot afford to pay for private psychological services.

Providing access under such circumstances can make a monumental difference in a child’s development and outlook on life. In addition, increasing accessibility to include the coverage of these psychological services under medicare would also be cost-effective.

Advocates and other community members spoke of mental health conditions like depression.
Research has shown the striking effectiveness of the treatments that psychologists employ, like cognitive behavioural therapy, in decreasing the relapse back into depression for individuals who have initially been treated and who have improved. Therapy with a psychologist has a proven ability to help under these circumstances. Its demonstrated cost-effectiveness, compared with the alternative health care and possible justice system costs, strongly suggests that such therapy should be covered under our medicare system.  

Coverage may be particularly helpful for post-partum depression, and for helping those with depression to maintain their overall health and decrease the likelihood of relapse and of severe and tragic consequences like suicide.

The Manitoba Psychological Society states that one in five Canadians is diagnosed with mental illness and that this number is increasing. These are our families, friends, co-workers, and neighbours.  Every community is affected by mental illness. It is to help these children and families that members of our community came together to discuss this important concern. 

Certainly, there was very strong support to place more psychological services under medicare at this recent forum. Let’s keep the dialogue open.

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