Tuesday 23 October 2018

Health cover could reduce suicide levels

LARISSA NOLAN MENTAL health experts have called on the country's medical insurers to include psychology services in their plans, saying it could cut our soaring suicide levels.

Adult visits to psychologists are not covered by any of Ireland's three health insurance companies, VHI, Bupa Ireland or Vivas Healthcare.

Leading therapists have criticised the State-run VHI for covering alternative treatments such as acupuncture, yet ruling out clinical and counselling psychology.

Counselling psychologist Leslie Shoemaker believes that psychology should be covered when recommended by a GP or psychiatrist.

She said certain psychological conditions should be included in health plans, especially those that need Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT), which has proven to be highly effective.

Repeated research and clinical evidence have shown that CBT works in the treatment of such problems as depression and anxiety, post-traumatic stress disorder and post-natal depression.

"I cannot understand how something like acupuncture is covered by VHI, yet counselling and clinical psychology is not," said Ms Shoemaker.

"Research on the efficacy of acupuncture has been OK at best. Whereas research on CBT has always been clear-cut - it works.

"We have a huge suicide problem in Ireland, yet health insurance companies do not cover adults who may benefit from therapy for depression and anxiety."

Clinical psychologist Paul O'Donoghue agrees. He says evidence-based therapies should be prioritised, not alternative treatments.

"CBT is one of the most widely used and effective treatments for a variety of issues and should be covered as a matter of course," he said.

Mr O'Donoghue, founder of the Irish Skeptics Society, is mistrustful of complementary healing techniques such as acupuncture.

"The inclusion of acupuncture on the VHI list gives such alternative therapies a kudos they do not deserve," said Mr O'Donoghue.

Barbara Coyle of VHI explained that the firm decides what is and is not covered on a supply and demand basis.

"VHI's aim is to provide comprehensive healthcare products at an affordable cost for members. We therefore have to make difficult choices with regards to the range of benefits covered.

"The market is constantly changing and we will not rule it out in the future if we find there is a need for it."

Curiously, the VHI covers child psychology visits under the Lifestage Choices family plan and parents can claim ?30 per counselling session for up to eight sessions per year.

Fine Gael health spokesman Dr Liam Twomey believes it is only a matter of time before psychology services are covered by health insurers.

He says healthcare groups are slow to pick up on relatively new treatments and psychology has only become widely acceptable in recent decades.

"Insurers test the water a bit before they decide if they can balance the treatment with the cost. But when they notice a strong enough demand for the service, they will cover it. Psychology is proven to work and so should be included in health plans."

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