To Unleash the Potential of Online Therapy, Government Must Get out of the Way

By Chloe Anagnos

The Australian government’s Medicare is recommending that officials expand a program known as Better Access to the tune of $1.5 billion. The idea is to give patients more access to Medicare-subsidized visits to therapists and other health professionals. But despite their recommendations, technology offers a sometimes more effective — and affordable — alternative to putting patients face-to-face with psychologists. All that the government agency has to do to truly help patients is to get out of the way.

Online therapy has been around for decades. But it wasn’t until the 2010s that companies like TalkSpace, 7 Cups Online Therapy, and BetterHelp started giving patients more options at a much more affordable price.  

The result has clearly been a positive one, as studies show that online counseling is just as effective in helping patients as face-to-face sessions with a therapist. And while it is now proven that patients suffering from different conditions all benefit, online therapy has been particularly effective in helping patients suffering because of anxiety and stress.

On top of that, what’s been the most revealing fact about the use of technology to help patients is that there is a particular group that benefits more than most: those who undergo online therapy to treat depression.

According to an analysis involving 3,876 adults, people suffering from depression reported better outcomes than those who went for a more traditional route.

In other words, when care is both more accessible and affordable, patients are more likely to stick with the program and see it through — two important steps you must take if healing is the goal.

With our busy lifestyles and difficulty dealing with our commute, work, and other conflicting parts of our routine, adding time to talk to a therapist face-to-face does not factor in our lists of priorities. To force patients to only find an in-person solution to a problem that can be addressed online will only add stress to our already stressful routines, making the very idea of looking for help prohibitive to many of us.

Letting the Market Help Those Who Need It Most

A quick online search yields a variety of articles and blog posts showing just how online counseling helps countless patients, from busy moms to struggling reporters. But it also yields several critiques and review sites that help potential patients think their options through.

That’s how the market works.

As therapists participating in the online-therapy revolution as well as the online services that provide them with a space learn to gauge their effectiveness, they also learn to adapt, serving those in need better and for less than a clinician would charge in-house. This dynamic helps everyone, especially those in the low- and middle-income brackets.

But when it comes to a government-backed insurance program with a network of participating clinicians and therapists, the incentive structure changes, mostly because those being paid government-insurance reimbursement rates aren’t making as much money as they would if they only saw patients either paying out-of-pocket or privately insured. The result? Poor patients are stuck seeing clinicians that might not be as effective simply because they do not have an option to go outside of what’s offered through government insurance.

The only solution to a problem that comes in many different shapes and sizes is to not restrict choice but allow for solutions to be created as needed.

While some will make the case that government-backed insurance could add online counseling to its host of services to achieve better outcomes, that alone isn’t enough. After all, this hands-on involvement with the private market may add more regulatory burdens to the segment, making it less affordable and accessible.

More effective than just making the online-therapy options available for more Medicare users would be to completely allow for the medical profession to expand its services using online tools. After all, we can only benefit from a truly unrestricted market.

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Chloe Anagnos

Chloe Anagnos is AIER's Publications Manager. She is a writer and digital marketer and has been an AIER contributor since 2017. Her work has been the subject of articles in FOX News, USA Today, CNN Money, and WIRED. She has been a writer, commentator, and panelist for media outlets around the country on subjects like political marketing, campaigning, and social media. Follow @ChloeAnagnos.