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Racial, Ethnic, and Nativity Differences in Mental Health Visits to Primary Care and Specialty Mental Health Providers: Analysis of the Medical Expenditures Panel Survey, 2010-2015.

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Black and Latino minorities have traditionally had poorer access to primary care than non-Latino Whites, but these patterns could change with the Affordable Care Act (ACA). To guide post-ACA efforts to address mental health service disparities, we used a nationally representative sample to characterize baseline race-, ethnicity-, and nativity-associated differences in mental health services in the context of primary care. Data were obtained from the Medical Expenditures Panel Survey (MEPS), a two-year panel study of healthcare use, satisfaction with care, and costs of services in the United States (US). We pooled data from six waves (14-19) of participants with serious psychological distress to examine racial, ethnic, and nativity disparities in medical and mental health visits to primary care (PC) and specialty mental health (SMH) providers around the time of ACA reforms, 2010-2015. Of the 2747 respondents with serious psychological distress, 1316 were non-Latino White, 632 non-Latino Black, 532 identified as Latino with Mexican, Central American, or South American (MCS) origins, and 267 as Latino with Caribbean island origins; 525 were foreign/island born. All racial/ethnic groups were less likely than non-Latino Whites to have any PC visit. Of those who used PC, non-Latino Blacks were less likely than Whites to have a PC mental health visit, while foreign born MCS Latinos were less likely to visit an SMH provider. Conditional on any mental health visit, Latinos from the Caribbean were more likely than non-Latino Whites to visit SMH providers versus PC providers only, while non-Latino Blacks and US born MCS Latinos received fewer PC mental health visits than non-Latino Whites. Racial-, ethnic-, and nativity-associated disparities persist in PC provided mental health services.

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