Health Insurance

The Affordable Care Act (ACA) requires individual and most employer-sponsored health insurance plans to provide mental and behavioral health benefits. But even if you don't have health insurance through an employer or the ACA, you can still find help for mental health needs.

Best health insurance for mental health coverage

Most employer-sponsored insurance and individual insurance plans provide a set of standard mental health benefits. However, what you pay, as compared to what the company contributes, and extra benefits can vary by company. Plans were reviewed and rated on a range of factors, including cost and availability.

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Best overall individual mental health insurance

Consider this if you want a solid set of mental health extras and reasonable rates.
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Pros
  • Large universal network
  • Focus on mental health resources
  • Reasonable rates
Cons
  • Only in 18 states
  • Customer service

Insurer details

  • AM Best financial strength rating: A
  • NAIC complaint index: 1.13
  • Better Business Bureau: NR

UnitedHealthcare takes our spot for the best overall mental health coverage primarily because of its comprehensive approach. With UnitedHealthcare, you have access to 24/7 treatment and support through a wide range of online, virtual and mobile tools. The Sanvello app lets you track your mood, connect with peers and track your personal progress with weekly check-ins. Some UnitedHealthcare extras can include:

  • Telehealth, with three free visits
  • Virtual mental health visits depending on plan and health care provider
  • Emotional support by phone or mobile app
  • "Talkspace" online therapy that allows you to message anywhere, anytime
  • Sanvello app, which provides coping tools, peer community support and progress tracking

UnitedHealthcare rates are reasonable compared to other carriers, and the company's provider network includes over 1 million providers and 6,500 facilities.

Along with a wide network, the UnitedHealthcare website includes a section dedicated to finding the right mental health provider for your needs.
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In the states we analyzed, UnitedHealthcare offers only HMO plans through the health insurance marketplace, meaning you must work with in-network mental and behavioral health providers. Your copays and coinsurance can vary by plan tier (Bronze, Silver or Gold). With one UnitedHealthcare Bronze plan, you pay nothing for outpatient mental and behavioral health services after your deductible. Keep in mind, however, the deductible is higher for most Bronze plans. With a Silver or Gold plan, you pay up to $90 per outpatient visit after meeting your deductible.

For inpatient care , you again pay nothing after your deductible for the Bronze HMO. After meeting your deductible for a Silver or Gold plan, you would pay coinsurance of approximately 35% of the cost for each inpatient service.

With a UnitedHealthcare Bronze HMO, you pay full price for prescriptions until you meet your deductible. After you meet the deductible, approved prescriptions from a participating pharmacy are covered in full.

UnitedHealthcare has not been rated by the Better Business Bureau, and the National Association of Insurance Commissioners (NAIC) rated the service as slightly subpar. AM Best rated the company's financial outlook as positive.

Best employer-sponsored mental health insurance

Consider this if you want comprehensive mental health coverage through your employer.
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Pros
  • Full range of benefits and resources
  • Customer service
Cons
  • Availability
  • You may have to change providers

Insurer details

  • AM Best financial strength rating: A
  • NAIC complaint index: 0.56
  • Better Business Bureau: A+

Aetna is our top choice for mental health coverage through your employer. If your employer offers Aetna, you will have access to a wealth of resources and programs focused on mental and behavioral health. One highlight is the company's dedicated nationwide network of more than 160,000 behavioral health providers. Aetna also provides a service called an employee assistance program (EAP), where members can meet with a counselor by phone, via video or in person about work, family or personal issues. Aetna EAP crisis response lines are available to employees throughout the U.S., with 24/7 confidential counseling and support for employees.

Aetna employee plan options include EPO, PPO and HMO plans. While most employers are required to provide essential mental health benefits, Aetna employer coverage adds a unique set of mental-health-specific resources, including:

  • An eight-week AbleTo program, where members get personalized counseling by phone or video, on their schedule.
  • The MindCheck tool. This resource asks four quick questions to help members gauge their emotions, identify triggers and avoid stress.
  • A crisis and community support resource center, which includes a specific COVID-19 resource center.

Aetna employer plans also provide 24/7/365 telehealth, nutritional counseling, an Aetna Health app to manage benefits, and MinuteClinic walk-in clinics for both physical and mental health needs. MinuteClinics are not available in all states.

Aetna plans to reenter the individual health insurance marketplace for 2022, but only in a handful of states. Individual plan benefits may differ from employer plan benefits.

Best mental health insurance for Medicare beneficiaries

Consider this if you're on Medicare and want the most robust overall coverage.
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Pros
  • AARP affiliation
  • Coverage offerings
  • Availability
Cons
  • Potential service issues
  • Expensive in some areas

Insurer details

  • AM Best financial strength rating: A
  • NAIC complaint index: 1.13
  • Better Business Bureau: NR

UnitedHealthcare is our top choice for mental health coverage for Medicare recipients because it is widely available, has a sizable provider network and offers rates comparable to other plans. UnitedHealthcare plans, many of which carry the AARP name, received positive marks from the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS), receiving an overall 4 out of 5 possible stars for 2022. You can view CMS star ratings for each insurer on the Medicare Plan Finder tool at Medicare.gov.

Medicare Advantage (also known as Medicare Part C) plans from UnitedHealthcare are available in 50 states and Washington, D.C., with a network of 850,000 Medicare providers. Medicare Advantage plans must provide at least the same benefits as Original Medicare, including inpatient and outpatient mental and behavioral health services. Along with the required coverage, UnitedHealthcare Medicare Advantage mental health benefits include:

  • Virtual mental health visits with telehealth providers for $0 copay
  • Telehealth services for members with a substance use disorder or co-occurring mental health disorder
  • Outpatient mental health or substance abuse therapy upon physician referral and plan approval
  • Depression screening with your primary care doctor
  • Alcohol dependence screening and counseling
  • Opioid treatment (with plan approval)

For mental health care services that require a hospital stay, UnitedHealthcare has a 190-day lifetime limit for inpatient services in a psychiatric facility. The limit does not apply to mental health services provided in a psychiatric unit of a general hospital. Inpatient substance abuse services are also covered.

UnitedHealthcare also covers partial hospitalization, a structured psychiatric treatment program done in an outpatient hospital setting or in a community mental health center, instead of a hospital stay.

The UnitedHealthcare Medicare Advantage HMO plan includes prescription coverage with no deductible and no copay for certain generic medications. A home delivery program is available through OptumRx, which is affiliated with UnitedHealthcare.

Best for customer service

Consider this if you want good customer service with your Medicare Advantage or ACA plan.
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Pros
  • Service reputation
  • Good range of mental health services
Cons
  • Plan availability
  • Provider availability

Insurer details

  • AM Best financial strength rating: NR
  • NAIC complaint index: 0.73
  • Better Business Bureau: A+

Kaiser Permanente, with 28 years of insurance experience, ranks highly for service with both Medicare Advantage and ACA plan customers. The company earned positive marks from the NAIC with a below-average number of complaints relative to its size. Kaiser received an A+ rating from the Better Business Bureau, due partly to the company's prompt response to customer concerns.

All Kaiser Permanente 2022 Medicare health plans received the highest possible rating from the federal government, with 5 stars for quality and service.

Kaiser Permanente is a managed care organization with a network of 38 hospitals and 727 medical offices. Kaiser pitches itself as a company that considers the mind and body connection and takes a "total body" approach to wellness. Members can receive a range of mental and behavioral services such as therapy, crisis intervention and help for eating disorders — all without the need for referrals. Kaiser also provides access to free wellness apps to help with mental health needs.

Kaiser offers coverage in eight states and Washington, D.C. You can apply for an ACA plan at HealthCare.gov or go to Medicare.gov to review Medicare Advantage options available through Kaiser.

Best insurance for mental health — a quick guide

Company
Best for
Why we chose it
UnitedHealthcareOverall featuresMental health network and resources
AetnaEmployer coverageMental health programs and resources
UnitedHealthcare/AARPMedicare recipientsAvailability and mental health resources
Kaiser PermanenteCustomer serviceService ratings and a comprehensive approach to mental and physical wellness

Other options for accessing mental or behavioral health care

If you don’t have access to traditional insurance, or your insurance doesn't provide the help you need, there are other resources for obtaining affordable mental health services.

Medicaid: Medicaid provides mental health and substance abuse coverage for adults, but benefits can vary by state. Mental health coverage through the Children's Health Insurance Program (CHIP) is more standardized and must include a full array of mental health services for enrolled children regardless of the state.

Original Medicare: If you are enrolled in Medicare Part A and Part B, whether because of age or disability, you receive inpatient and outpatient mental health benefits. Keep in mind that Original Medicare does not pay 100% for most services. So, unless you have a plan that helps cover those "gaps" — like a Medicare Advantage or supplemental plan — you pay any leftover costs on your own.

Employee Assistance Program (EAP): If your employer doesn't provide health insurance, the company may still offer an EAP to help members with work, family or personal issues. An EAP is separate from insurance and is paid for by the employer.

Veterans Affairs (VA): VA provides services for a variety of mental health needs. Some services are available even if you're not enrolled in the VA health plan.

University counseling centers often offer free services to active students.

Nonprofit organizations such as Open Path Psychotherapy Collective are available to assist people with low or middle incomes in getting access to care.

The National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) has a toll-free line for no-cost assistance and advice at all times. NAMI provides help in emergency situations as well as guidance on how to access other free resources in your area.

Methodology

The above comparisons are based on plan coverage levels, policy details, third-party rankings and sample cost data for 2022. Rate and fee analysis for ACA coverage is based on a female nonsmoker aged 21 according to location and insurance carrier. Medicare Advantage rates are based on location and Medicare eligibility. Sources include MentalHealth.gov, CMS.gov, HealthCare.gov, VA.gov, Medicare.gov, Medicaid.gov, healthinsurance.org, UnitedHealthcare, Aetna and Kaiser Permanente as well as other insurance companies.

Rating organizations referenced in this article are listed below. These agencies use multiple factors to determine overall ratings, including a company's financial health or servicing history.

AM Best: AM Best is a credit rating agency that scores insurance companies based on their financial health and ability to meet financial obligations.

NAIC: The NAIC complaint index measures complaints to regulators about an insurer weighted against its market share. An NAIC score of 1.00 indicates the company has an average number of complaints relative to its size. A lower NAIC number means fewer complaints relative to size.

Better Business Bureau: In calculating ratings, the Better Business Bureau considers the number of complaints a company receives and how promptly they are addressed, along with a company’s size relative to complaint totals and its time in business.

Editorial Note: The content of this article is based on the author’s opinions and recommendations alone. It has not been previewed, commissioned or otherwise endorsed by any of our network partners.