How Can I Pay for Therapy?

If you have private health insurance or are enrolled in a health maintenance organization or another type of managed care plan, it may cover mental health services such as psychotherapy. Before you start psychotherapy, you should check with your insurance plan to see what is covered.

Thanks to the Paul Wellstone and Pete Domenici Mental Health Parity and Addiction Equity Act of 2008, group insurers of more than 50 employees that offer mental health and substance use services must cover both mental and physical health equally. That means insurers are no longer allowed to charge higher co-pays or deductibles for psychological services or arbitrarily limit the number of psychotherapy sessions you can receive.

However, insurance companies vary in terms of which mental health conditions they cover. That means some insurance policies may not cover certain mental health disorders. Your employer may also offer an employee assistance program. These programs typically offer one to eight sessions of mental health treatment for free or at a very low cost. Your spouse or partner may also be eligible for these benefits.

Government-sponsored health care programs are another potential source of mental health services. These include Medicare for people age 65 and older and people with disabilities, as well as health insurance plans for military personnel and their dependents. In some states, Medicaid programs may also cover mental health services provided by psychologists.

Other options include community mental health centers, free clinics, religious organizations, and university and medical center training programs. These groups often offer high-quality services at low cost.

 What should I ask my insurance company?

Look on the back of your insurance card for a phone number for mental or behavioral health or call your insurance company's customer service number. Before your first psychotherapy appointment, ask your insurer the following questions:

  • Does my plan cover mental health services?
  • Do I have a choice about what kind of mental health professionals I can see? Ask whether your plan covers psychologists and what kinds of treatments are covered and excluded.
  • Is there a deductible? In some plans, you have to pay a certain amount yourself before your benefits start paying. Also ask how much the deductible is, what services count toward your deductible and when your deductible amount starts over again. Some deductibles re-set at the first of the year, for example, while others re-set at the beginning of your employer's fiscal year.
  • What is my co-payment? Your plan probably requires you to pay for part of treatment yourself by paying either a set amount or a percentage of the fee directly to your psychologist for each treatment session.
  • Is there a limit to the number of sessions? Unlike group or employer-based insurance that must provide mental health parity, private insurance does not. It may only be willing to pay for a certain number of sessions.


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