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Article Abstract

Online ISSN: 1099-176X    Print ISSN: 1091-4358
The Journal of Mental Health Policy and Economics
Volume 4, Issue 1, 2001. Pages: 35-41

Published Online: 15 Sep 2001

Copyright © 2001 ICMPE.

Minority Response to Health Insurance Coverage for Mental Health Services
Kathleen C. Thomas 1* and Lonnie R. Snowden 2
1 Research Fellow, Cecil G. Sheps Center for Health Services Research, University of North Carolina Chapel Hill, Chapel Hill, NC, USA
2 Professor, School of Social Welfare Center for Mental Health Services Research, University of California at Berkeley, CA, USA

*Correspondence to: Dr. Kathleen C. Thomas at Cecil G. Sheps Center for Health Services Research, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, 725 Airport Road, CB#7590, Chapel Hill, NC 27599-7590, USA
Tel. +1 (919) 966-3387
Fax +1 (919) 966-5764
E-mail: Kathleen_thomas@unc.edu

Source of Funding:
the work upon which this paper is based was funded in part by NIMH grant # MH 43694-11.


To promote access to mental health services, policy makers have focused on expanding the availability of insurance and the generosity of mental health benefits. Ethnic minority populations are high priority targets for outreach. However, among persons with private insurance, minorities are less likely than whites to seek outpatient mental health treatment. Among those with Medicaid
coverage, minorities continue to be less likely than whites to use

Aims of the Study:
The present study sought to determine if public insurance is as effective in promoting outpatient mental healthtreatment as private coverage for ethnic minority groups.

The analysis uses data from the 1987 National Medical Expenditure Survey to model mental health expenditures as a function of minority status and private insurance coverage. An interaction term between the two highlights any differences in response to private and public insurance coverage. The analysis uses a two stage least squares method to account for endogeneity of insurance coverage in the model.

Minorities are less responsive to private insurance than whites in two ways. First, minorities are less responsive to private insurance than to public insurance whereas whites do not show this difference. Second, minorities are less responsive to private insurance than whites are to private insurance.

Results suggest that there is a difference in the effectiveness of public and private health insurance to encourage use of mental health services. Among minorities but not among whites, those with private coverage used fewer mental health services than those with public coverage. Minorities were not only less responsive to private insurance than public insurance, but among those who were privately insured, minorities used fewer mental health services than whites. These results imply that insurance may not be as effective a mechanism as hoped to encourage self-initiated treatment seeking particularly among minority and other low income populations.

Implications for Health Care Provision and Use:
These results suggest that increasing private insurance coverage to minority populations will not eliminate racial and ethnic gaps in professional help-seeking for outpatient mental health care. Although the total number of people receiving treatment might increase, these results suggest that whites would seek care in greater numbers than minorities and the size of the minority-white differential might grow.

Implications for Further Research:
Areas for further research include the impacts of alternative definitions of mental health
services, the dynamics of the substitution of inpatient for outpatient mental health care, elucidation of nonfinancial barriers to care for minorities, and determinants of timely help-seeking among minorities.

Received 20 December 2000; accepted 10 July 2001