Lack of insurance coverage may hamper access to mental health care in Greenville County Schools

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GREENVILLE, S.C. (WSPA)- Data from the South Carolina Department of Mental Health suggests thousands of students in Greenville County may not be getting the therapy they need, and leaders say cost is a big reason why.

This story was first broken by the Greenville News. According to the South Carolina Department of Mental Health, students with Medicaid can receive the mental health care they need in schools at no cost to them, but those with private insurance often aren’t covered, leading to therapy bills going unpaid or costs that keep students from getting help in the first place.

“Kids are having a mental health crisis right now,” said Chris Haines, who is the director of school mental health programs with the Greater Greenville Mental Health Center.

Haines supervises 90 therapists stationed in Greenville County Schools by the state Department of Mental Health.

“We’ve seen record numbers of anxiety and depression,” Haines said. “Lots of kids visiting the emergency department for psychiatric issues, and in Greenville County nine kids who are public school students have died by suicide in the last nine months alone.”

Each school in Greenville County has a therapist assigned to it. Rob Rhodes, who is the director of school counseling for the district, said having therapists in school offers convenience.

“The purpose is that we’re meeting the need where the child is,” Rhodes said.

Data shows as many as 20 percent of children experience a mental health disorder in any given year. According to data from the Greater Greenville Mental Health Center, less than six percent of Greenville County students received help from a therapist in a school setting in the 2019-2020 school year.

Haines said some children might not have gotten help in schools because of the cost.

“Most private insurance plans cover little or no cost for school mental health services,” he said. “When insurance dosent pay, that means families get a bill.”

Data shows the Greater Greenville Mental Health Center school mental health team, including therapists stationed in schools, provided $1,405,542 worth of services for kids with private insurance over the 2019 to 2020 school year, but the center received only $186,998 in payment.

“There is the funding gap,” Haines said. “To make school mental health programs sustainable, we have to address that issue.”

He said lawmakers could help fix that gap.

“The General Assembly could choose to fund school mental health in such a way that that gap in funding was covered or helping us get private insurance companies pay ore,” Haines said.

According to Rhodes, Greenville County Schools will never turn a student away from mental health services, regardless of their ability to pay.

Resources:

National Suicide Prevention Lifeline 1-800-273-8255.

Teenline– Teens can get confidential help over text message by texting “Teenline” to 839863.

Copyright 2021 Nexstar Media Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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