Therapy coverage urged by watchdog

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Private psychotherapy, only available to people willing and able to pay for it, should be public, says Ontario’s health system watchdog.

Health Quality Ontario says adult therapy — provided by psychologists, nurses, psychotherapists and social workers — should be covered under Ontario’s public health-care system.

“For those people who don’t have the most serious and persistent kind of mental-health problems, it’s a pretty significant improvement in access,” said Barney Savage, policy analyst for Addictions and Mental Health Ontario that represents more than 220 agencies.

Health Quality Ontario — the province’s health-care adviser tasked with measuring and collecting system statistics — is seeking public input on its proposal until Sept. 5. The proposal recommends funding psychotherapy for people struggling with major depression or generalized anxiety disorder.

“They are among the most common mental health conditions, and so the potential impact from this recommendation is greater,” said Dr. Irfan Dhalla, vice-president of evidence, development and standards at Health Quality Ontario.

Depending on what services are included, the organization estimates covering psychotherapy by doctors and other health-care professionals could cost the province between $11 million and $529 million annually.

The least expensive option, according to the recommendation, would fund group therapy by psychologists, social workers, nurses or psychotherapists, with individual sessions available for patients who need them most.

Health Quality Ontario’s technology advisory committee will in late September to discuss the public input and draft a final recommendation. The document will be voted on by the agency’s board and presented to the Ministry of Health and Long-Term Care for review, a process Dhalla said will likely unfold by year’s end.

MPPs would decide what recommendations, if any, to adopt and how they would be implemented.

The Health Quality Ontario report said access to psychotherapy is limited because it’s only covered by the public health system when it’s provided by a psychiatrist or doctor. Therapy given by nurses, psychologists and social workers at hospitals or government-funded clinics may also be covered by Ontario’s health insurance plan.

But because those publicly-funded services face long wait lists and high demand, the report concludes the system is not serving Ontarians well enough.

Progressive Conservative health critic Jeff Yurek, the Elgin-Middlesex-London MPP, said funding private psychotherapy could have far-reaching benefits, taking pressure off emergency rooms and other mental-health crisis services.

“Many low-income Ontarians can’t afford private psychotherapy,” he said.

“Having this covered would really decrease the long wait times and inaccessibility to this service.”

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Health Quality Ontario recommends public funding of adult psychotherapy for major depression and generalized anxiety, a change that could cost the province between $11 million and $529 million a year

$225 is the hourly rate for psychologists recommended by the Ontario Psychological Association.

Psychotherapy is sometimes covered by workplace or private insurance policies.

Therapy is covered by OHIP only if it’s provided by a doctor, psychiatrist or other health-care professional working in a hospital or government-funded clinic.

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