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How to Pay for Therapy

For people experiencing mental health problems - such as anxiety or depression - brief yet effective treatment options exist. For people with severe mental illness, treatment is also effective, although it may take longer and cost more. In either case, treatment works for most people and helps many recover and get on with their lives.

Private Insurance:


The majority of working Americans are covered under employer-provided health insurance plans. One type of plan is a standard indemnity policy: people are free to visit health care providers of their choice and pay out of pocket for their treatment. The insurance plan reimburses members for some portion of the cost. The other common plan is a managed care plan. Medically necessary care is provided in the most cost-effective - or least expensive - method available. Plan members must visit health care providers chosen by the managed care plan. Sometimes a copayment is charged to the patient, but generally all care received from providers within the plan is covered. Recently, managed care companies have begun to provide services in many States for low-income Medicare and Medicaid beneficiaries.

Both types of health coverage may offer some coverage for mental health treatment. However, this treatment often is not paid for at the same rate as other health care costs, or there may be limits on visits. A few States have enacted "parity" laws that require insurers to pay for mental health and other health care costs at the same rate.

For the Uninsured:


If you are not insured, or if your income is limited, you might try other strategies to pay for mental health care. Some providers, for example, have sliding-scale fees. Based on your income - and your spouse's, if applicable - the provider will reduce his or her fees. Other providers, if they are aware of your financial limitations, may be willing to negotiate a payment plan that you can afford or to lower their rates according to what your insurance plan pays. The latter is called a "write-off."

  • Community-based resources - Many communities have community mental health centers (CMHCs). These centers offer a range of mental health treatment and counseling services, usually at a reduced rate for low-income people. CMHCs generally require that you have a private insurance plan or be a recipient of public assistance.

    Your church or synagogue can put you in touch with a pastoral counseling program. Certified pastoral counselors, who are ministers in a recognized religious body and have advanced degrees in pastoral counseling, as well as professional counseling experience. Pastoral counseling is often provided as a sliding-scale fee.

  • Self-help groups - Another option is to join a self-help or support group. Such groups give people a chance to learn more, talk about and work on their common problems-such as alcoholism, substance abuse, depression, family issues, and relationships. Self-help groups are generally free and can be found in virtually every community in America. They have proven to be very effective.

  • Public assistance - People with severe mental illness may be eligible for several forms of public assistance, both to meet basic costs of living and to pay for health care. Such programs include Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, and disability benefits.

    Medicare is America's major Federal health insurance program for some people who are 65 or older and for some with disabilities who are under 65. It provides basic protection for the cost of health care. Two programs can help people who have low incomes receive benefits. These are the Qualified Medicare Beneficiary (QMB) and the Specified Low-Income Medicare Beneficiary (SLMB) programs.

    Medicaid pays for some health care costs for America's poorest and most vulnerable people. More information about Medicaid and who is eligible for it is available at local welfare and medical assistance offices. Although there are certain Federal requirements, each State has its own rules and regulations for Medicaid.

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