Vasiliadis, H-M., Dezetter, A., Latimer, A., Drapeau, M., & Lesage, A. (2017). Assessing costs and benefits of insuring psychological services as part of Medicare for depression in Canada. Psychiatric Services in Advance.
About 20% of the population have a mental disorder like depression during their lifetime, and depression is associated with a number of negative health outcomes like mortality, health system costs, and low quality of life. Most patients prefer psychotherapy over medications, but there are significant barriers to accessing psychotherapy, with cost as the biggest barrier. Recently in the United Kingdom, a cost-benefit analysis was used to argue that the development of the Improving Access to Psychological Therapies (IAPT) program would pay for itself in five years. The IAPT is a system of reimbursing psychological therapies through the publicly funded National Health Service in the UK. Similar models are in place in France and Australia. Vasiliadis and colleagues also conducted an economic study in Canada to evaluate the cost-effectiveness of providing psychological services as part of Canada`s Medicare system. They did so by using economic modeling of incidences of depression among patients over a 40-year period, and assessing the relative costs and outcomes of increasing publicly funded access to psychotherapy compared with the status quo. They used known incidence rates for depression in the adult population (2.9%), and estimated health service use from the Canadian Community Health Survey (CHS), and estimated costs (hospitalizations, GP visits, specialist visits, seeing a psychologist or counsellor, antidepressant prescriptions) from provincial health billing manuals. They also used the existing research literature to estimate the average effects of psychotherapy for depression on various outcomes (quality of life, suicide and attempts, health service use, etc.). Adequate mental health services for depression was defined as either 8 sessions of psychotherapy or use of antidepressants. They found that 36.7% of Canadians with depression did not use mental health services, and only 67.4% of those who did access treatment received adequate care. In the economic models that were tested, increasing access to care resulted in a projected decrease in depression, suicidality, health system and societal costs. Increasing access would cost an additional $123 million per year, but savings to society in terms of reduced health system costs and increased productivity was $246 million per year. In other words, for every $1 spent by Medicare on psychotherapy, Canada would recoup $2 in reduced costs and increased productivity.
The findings of this Canadian study echo those of similar economic studies done in the UK, France, and Australia. Increasing access to psychotherapy for depression through Medicare is more effective and less costly than the status quo. In fact this Canadian study may underestimate potential gains because it did not account for the increased use of the health system by depressed people with chronic medical conditions. Currently, public expenditures for mental health and addictions in Canada account for only 7.2% of the total health budget. An increase of 0.07% of the total health budget to cover psychological services would result in health care cost savings, improved mental health, reductions in disability, and increased productivity among Canadians.