Walmart, CVS and Other Retailers Enter Mental Health Market

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CVS, which merged with the insurance provider Aetna three years ago, aims to reduce overall health costs with its mental health pilot program, Dr. Knecht said. Mental health issues that are not addressed become crises, he added, “so our aspiration is to make mental health services accessible and locally available so we can address these issues before they continue to expand and result in substantial morbidity and poor outcomes.”

Removing obstacles to mental health care by making providers more accessible is helpful, said Vaile Wright, senior director of health care innovation at the American Psychological Association, “but they are never the No. 1 barrier to accessing treatment,” she said. “Cost is.”

Psychiatrists are less likely to take insurance than other types of physicians, and many psychologists, social workers and others who offer therapy likewise decline insurance because they say payments by insurers are relatively low and managed care companies sometimes subject them to intrusive audits.

The mental health services provided by the CVS MinuteClinics are covered by many major health insurers and Employee Assistance Program plans, a spokeswoman said.

“Pricing options without insurance range between $129 for an initial assessment to $69 for a 30-minute session, with many options in between,” she added.

At Walmart, the initial therapy session is $60 and the 45-minute follow-up sessions cost $45, according to the company’s website.

If you’re considering using a retail location to receive therapy, be sure to ask the same questions you would of any new therapist, experts advise. Some examples include:

  • Where were you trained?

  • What kind of license do you have?

  • What is your specialty?

  • How will we monitor my progress?

  • How long will my session last, and how many sessions are available to me?

  • Is there follow-through if I need a referral?

  • How much will this cost?

  • How will my data be stored and shared?

In addition, if you identify as L.G.B.T. or are a member of another minority group — or if you already know that you suffer from a particular condition like anxiety or depression — it’s helpful to know whether the therapist has worked with similar populations in the past and whether they have had cultural competence training, said Alfiee Breland-Noble, a health disparities researcher and founder of the AAKOMA Project, a mental health nonprofit for teenagers and their families.

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