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Study Finds It’s Difficult To Get Psychiatric Care Around Boston

BOSTON — A study by Harvard Medical School researchers finds that even people with excellent private health insurance have trouble getting psychiatric care in Greater Boston.

The authors of the study, published in the Annals of Emergency Medicine, posed as patients with Blue Cross Blue Shield insurance and called mental health providers in the plan, saying they had been seen in an emergency room and needed a psychiatric appointment within two weeks.

Dr. Wes Boyd, one of the study’s authors, says the lack of a response was surprising.

“Twenty-three percent of the time we were told we needed to have a primary care doctor in the facility,” Boyd said. “Another 23 percent of the time we left two different messages at the facility on the phone several days apart and never got back.”

Boyd blames the slow response on low reimbursement for psychiatric services.

“To have obstacles this big for someone who is suffering from some form of mental illness, it’s really a very sad statement about reimbursement for psychiatric care,” Boyd said.

Blue Cross says the study is flawed and is just an attempt to pressure it to pay clinicians more.

“It comes at a time when everyone in our community is focused on: how can we do more as a community — the health plans, hospitals, physicians, behavioral health clinicians — to moderate the cost of care?” said Blue Cross spokesman Jay McQuaide.

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