2019 to 2022 Saw Increase in Mental Health Service Use, Spending

Telehealth visits increased more than 10-fold during acute phase of the pandemic and remained high in postacute phase.

HealthDay News From 2019 to 2022, there was a considerable increase in mental health service utilization and spending, according to a research letter published online Aug. 25 in JAMA Health Forum.

Jonathan H. Cantor, Ph.D., from RAND Corporation in Santa Monica, California, and colleagues quantified trends in mental health service utilization and spending during 3 periods: before the severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 public health emergency declaration, the acute phase before vaccine availability, and the postacute phase (Jan. 1, 2019 to March 12, 2020; March 13, 2020 to Dec. 17, 2020; and Dec. 18, 2020 to Aug. 31, 2022, respectively).

Data were included for 1,554,895 mental health service claims. Researchers found a 39.5% decrease in in-person visits during the acute phase, while telehealth visits increased 1,019.3% compared with the year prior, jointly representing a 22.3 increase in utilization overall. In general, these trends were consistent across conditions. Telehealth visits stabilized at about 10 times prepandemic levels during the postacute phase (1,068.3%), while in-person visits increased 2.2% each month. In-person visits had returned to 79.9% of prepandemic levels by August 2022, and overall mental health service use was 38.8% higher than during the prepandemic period. Spending rates mimicked utilization, with per-capita expenditures 29.5% higher during the acute phase and a gradual increase seen in spending rates during the postacute phase.

“These findings suggest that telehealth utilization for mental health services remains persistent and elevated. If this increased utilization affects spending, insurers may begin rejecting the new status quo,” the authors write.

Two authors disclosed ties to Castlight Health.

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