Getting Mental Health Care on a Low Income

If you are concerned that your teen might need mental health care but you do not have medical insurance or you have a high deductible, a low income, or some other circumstance that makes it hard for you to pay for care, it’s important to be aware of the programs in place to help. Mental health is very important, and it’s possible to get free or low-cost mental health care services for your child. Don’t let a fear of high doctor’s bills dissuade you from getting your teenager help.


Medicaid and Children’s Health Insurance Program


The government will provide health insurance to adults and children who are low income. At the present time, families who make under 133% of the federal poverty level are eligible for Medicaid. Medicaid covers the cost of the following services:

  • checkups
  • vaccinations
  • hospitalizations
  • most health conditions, including mental health conditions
  • substance abuse


In fact, Medicaid is the largest payer of mental health services in the United States.


If your household makes more than the income limit for Medicaid, you might still be able to get completely or partially subsidized health insurance for your child. Every state has a Children’s Health Insurance Program, or CHIP, plan. These plans cover the same types of conditions and provides the same types of services that Medicaid covers. Families are usually charged a low premium that can vary depending on their income. For some income levels, the premium payments are higher, but they are often still lower than what you might get through your employer or the Marketplace.

Low-Cost or Free Mental Health Care Clinics and Providers


If you cannot get medical coverage for your teen that will include mental health services, you might be able to utilize a low-cost or free mental health care provider. Many communities have clinics or providers who offer care on a sliding fee. This means that they will take your income into consideration when determining how much you should pay for services. If your income is very low, then it’s likely that these services will be free. If not, you might have a set amount to pay for each visit that would be comparable to an insurance copay.


In addition to community clinics, your area might have a federally funded health care center. It might be called a health services center or a health department in your area. These offer sliding fees and free care to those who are eligible. They can also often refer you for services that they do not provide and help you find providers who will work with you on payments. Many, though not all, federally funded health centers do provide mental health care services.


Other Options for Mental Health Care


Here are three other places that you might be able to receive low-cost mental health services.


1. If you live near a university, sometimes the affiliated health centers offer low-cost or free services. This is often the case if your teen is a student there, but sometimes the health centers are open to the public. You might have to wait a long time for an appointment, though, so if there is an urgent situation, this might not be the best way for you to get your teen the mental health care that he or she needs.


2. Another option is to ask at a church or other place of worship. For some types of mental health situations, a pastor or a counselor at the church might be able to help. Other times, they can refer your family to someone who can. Members of the church who work in the mental health care field might be able to offer services at a lower rate, for example, or they might know of resources for those who cannot afford care.


3. It’s also worth asking your teen’s school if they offer a counselor or social worker who might be able to help. This type of counselor that would be at a school or a church can generally provide counseling services but might not be able to prescribe medications or do intense forms of therapy. It is a good place to start, however, if you are unsure of what your community offers.


Getting Low-Cost Prescriptions


Once you are able to take your teen for mental health care services, you might be concerned about the cost of any medications needed, if any. There are programs in place to help people who cannot afford their medicine. Speak to the doctor or therapist about the situation right away. They might have samples that can help absorb part of the cost. Samples are also a good way to try out a medication to check for side effects before purchasing an entire month’s worth at the pharmacy.


Some pharmacies offer generic medications at a low rate. You can call different pharmacies to find out which is going to be the least expensive. The health care center in your community might also be able to provide prescriptions, sometimes on a sliding fee scale. Be honest about your financial situation, because sometimes a less expensive drug can be substituted for one that is pricey.


Finally, don’t be afraid to contact the manufacturer of the drug that your child needs. Many times, they will have programs that you can apply for which will cover part or all of the cost of the medication. The Partnership for Prescription Assistance can match you with a program that may be able to help.


In Case of Emergency


If there is an emergency and you are worried about your child’s mental health, you can call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255. This is a toll-free call, and they will tell you what you should do. You can also call 911 or go to the nearest emergency room. The doctors there will treat your child for no upfront cost. You will have a bill to deal with later, but many hospitals offer charity programs for patients who cannot afford to pay for their services. Even if you have to set up a payment plan, the crisis will have been averted and your teen will be safe.


In addition to the resources listed here, it’s a good idea to check in with your pediatrician or family doctor. He or she is likely to know of other ways that you and your teen can get help with mental health issues in your community. They can also recommend which doctors or clinics are most likely to work with you and whether there are local resources that can help you pay the bills that accrue. Since your teen’s mental health can affect him or her for a lifetime, it’s essential that you do whatever you can to get him or her help now if it’s needed. Explain your financial situation to your teen’s doctor and ask them to help you find the best way to help your child.