Healthy Minds releases landmark report on gaps in commercial insurance networks for mental health care

February 9, 2023

A new report released today by Healthy Minds Policy Initiative examines the obstacles to mental health care faced by Oklahomans with commercial health insurance. This in-depth analysis – one of the most comprehensive ever released publicly in Oklahoma – investigates the extent of inaccurate information in insurance network provider directories, the long wait times endured by Oklahomans in search of care, and how large portions of the state are without accessible in-network providers to treat life-threatening mental health conditions.

In studying the largest private insurance networks in Oklahoma, Healthy Minds discovered:

  • The majority of behavioral health providers listed by insurance networks appear unavailable or unreachable – many with disconnected phone lines. Insurance network directories list out-of-date, inaccurate information that makes it harder for Oklahomans to connect with mental health providers.
  • Oklahomans face long waits for care. Even when behavioral health providers are active in an insurance network, many cannot see clients in a timely manner.
  • Rural Oklahomans and people with complex mental health needs have fewer options for in-network mental health care. For roughly 30% of the state’s population, the nearest psychiatrist is more than a 30-minute drive away – assuming the provider is even in network.
  • Insurance plans leave out the vast majority of available providers. In the best example, only 30% of behavioral health providers are in network.

For Oklahomans with commercial health insurance ­– more than half the state’s population – obstacles to accessing mental health care can be expensive and even deadly.

“The public health implications of delayed and expensive care for two million Oklahomans with private insurance are vast,” says Healthy Minds Executive Director Zack Stoycoff. “The effects of poorly resourced and inaccessible mental health services are well documented, and untreated and undertreated mental illnesses have wide-ranging consequences for people, taxpayers, and systems.”

The study’s multi-part methodology includes a geographic analysis of behavioral health care locations listed in the provider directories of several Oklahoma insurance plans, as well as an evaluation of the accuracy of providers’ contact information in those directories. Phone calls were made to 159 providers listed in network directories. From those calls, 103 providers were unable to be reached – more than half of those because of a disconnected phone line.

“Having unreliable information is one of many issues that contribute to a failing mental health system in this state,” says Oklahoma Mental Health Caucus Co-Chair Sen. Jessica Garvin, whose bill, SB 254, would cap out-of-pocket costs for Oklahomans who can’t find timely mental health care in their network. “Lawmakers owe it to taxpayers and our constituents to take responsibility for improvements when those who are tasked with this job aren’t getting it done. This data is proof that years of neglecting the infrastructure of the mental health system has led to horrific outcomes and are probably contributing to the high rates of suicide, substance abuse, alcoholism, domestic violence and children in foster care, just to name a few systemic issues facing Oklahomans.”

Employers have a significant stake in mental health coverage gaps where commercial health coverage is concerned. Because of the challenges employers face in the wake of the pandemic, the importance of mental health benefits to the workforce has increased exponentially.

“At Love’s, our employees are our number one asset,” says Shane Wharton, president of Love’s Travel Stops and Country Stores. “Providing them top-tier health insurance – including mental health services – is an investment we’re proud to make. It’s concerning to hear that some Oklahomans are not receiving access to the behavioral health services they’re supposed to get through their plans. Love’s encourages employers and leaders to join us in being an advocate for the physical and mental well-being of employees.”

“Addressing this challenge will require action by insurers, policymakers, health care providers and employers,” says Stoycoff. “We look forward to supporting and collaborating with these partners to find solutions.”

Read the report in full.

Additional reactions

Sen. Julia Kirt (D-Oklahoma City), co-chair of the Oklahoma Mental Health Caucus
“It’s clear from this report how many Oklahomans are waiting for time-sensitive care. Roughly half of all Oklahomans will experience a mental illness during their lifetimes – these are our family members, friends, co-workers and neighbors. We need to craft policy that ensures access to mental health care when people need it.”

Rep. Melissa Provenzano (D-Tulsa), co-chair of the Oklahoma Mental Health Caucus
“As a former educator, I know that access to mental health services can be critical to the academic success of a child. I’ve seen kids flourish with the right supports. I am glad to serve as co-chair for the mental health caucus and look forward to doing everything we can to make sure services are easily available to all who need them.”

Roger Ramseyer, Tulsa market vice president for Cox Communications and member of Healthy Minds’ State Policy Council
“Health insurance that includes quality mental health benefits helps ensure the well-being of Oklahomans and is of critical importance to Oklahoma employers. With our company employing more than 1,500 Oklahomans, we, like most employers, understand the value of wellness and readily accessible mental health resources and benefits. We hope Healthy Minds’ findings spur productive conversations about how to improve the accessibility of providers, which will undoubtedly benefit Oklahoma’s workforce and, ultimately, result in enhanced productivity and prosperity for our state’s economy.”