Are Disparities in Mental Health Care for Medicaid Beneficiaries Lower in Managed Care?


There are large and persistent racial and ethnic disparities in the use of mental health care in the United States. Medicaid managed care plans have the potential to reduce racial and ethnic disparities in use of mental health care through monitoring of need and active management of use of services across the populations they cover. This study compares racial and ethnic disparities among Medicaid beneficiaries in managed care with those not in managed care.


We compared Medicaid beneficiaries enrolled health maintenance organizations (HMOs) with those in fee-for-service (FFS) using data from the 2007-2015 Medical Expenditure Panel Survey (N=26,113). We specified two-part propensity score adjusted models to estimate differences in mental health related emergency department visits, hospital stays, prescription fills, and outpatient visits overall and by race/ethnicity.


HMO enrollment was associated with lower odds of having a mental health prescription (OR=0.86, 95% CI 0.78-0.96) or outpatient visit (OR=0.82 95% CI 0.73-0.92). These differences were similar across racial and ethnic groups or larger among Non-Hispanic Black and Hispanic beneficiaries than among Non-Hispanic White beneficiaries.


Medicaid managed care has not improved the inequitable allocation of mental health care across racial and ethnic groups. Explicit attention to monitoring of racial and ethnic differences in use of mental health care in Medicaid managed care is warranted.


Improvement in racial and ethnic disparities in mental health care in Medicaid manage care is unlikely to occur without targeted accountability mechanisms, such as required reporting or other contracting requirements.

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