B.C. psychologists say their services should be covered under MSP

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As the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic puts increasing stress on British Columbians, psychologists in the province say it’s time for their services to be covered by government funding.

The B.C. Psychological Association is calling on the province to extend MSP coverage to psychologist services for one year, and to work toward integrating them into the primary care system long-term.

“It’s not been traditionally a part of what we consider health care,” said Erika Penner, a director with the association.

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“Which is funny, of course. It’s artificial to sort of divide mental and physical health as if they’re two different things.”

Penner said the strain and uncertainty of the pandemic have left growing numbers of British Columbians dealing with anxiety and depression, and pushed others to more extreme crises including suicidal thoughts.

Psychologists’ services are not covered under provincial health insurance, and even people with private coverage through their jobs likely have only enough for two or three sessions, she said.

“As a psychologist, it’s really hard to turn people away, because I went into this field to help people,” Penner said.

Penner argues that providing coverage for psychologists’ services and integrating them into the primary care system would allow people to get early interventions into mental health challenges, preventing them from escalating to more severe cases.

That would result in happier and healthier people, reduced prescriptions of medication, and overall savings for the health-care system, she said.

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An average session with a psychologist in B.C. costs about $200, she said, meaning the province would be on the hook for significant up-front costs.

But the association points to research suggesting that every dollar spent on mental healthcare saves $2 elsewhere in the healthcare system.

“Even if you don’t care about care about mental health, you should still care about having psychologists as part of healthcare just for the cost savings, just for the reductions in medications people are having to take or the reductions in use of our emergency rooms, decreased wait times, more access to physicians,” Penner said.

In a statement, the Ministry of Mental Health and Addictions said it was expanding access to no-cost mental health services, but acknowledged there was still “work to do.”

However, it said there are currently some mental health services available through MSP from primary care physicians and specialists and through teams at the province’s new urgent primary care centres.

“Across our (primary care centres and primary care networks), as of January we have recruited approximately 125 (full-time equivalent positions), including health care professionals specifically focused on people with mental health and substance use-related challenges,” the ministry said.

It said low-cost, publicly funded in-person and virtual services are also available. Information on accessing those services can be found on the gov.bc.ca website.

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