Objectives — This study examined the match between mental health needs and physician fee-for-service reimbursements for mental health care within age and gender groups and health planning regions in Ontario, Canada.
Methods — Indicators of need (mental disorder, reported disability, and self-rated mental health) from an epidemiologic survey of 9,953 Ontario household residents were compared with per capita reimbursement rates derived from an administrative data set containing all fee-for-service expenditures for mental health care paid by the provincial health plan.
Results — Few gender differences were found in overall need, but need varied significantly by age. Those in greatest need were adolescent males and females, who had rates of need two to four times higher than older respondents. Regional variations in need were less evident. By contrast, per capita reimbursement showed marked gender differences, with rates for women generally twice the rates for men. Considerable variations in reimbursement were also found across age groups; these variations did not match variations in need. Highly urbanized areas had per capita reimbursement rates between two and four times the rates for less populated areas.
Conclusions — Despite Ontario's universal-access health care system, notable discrepancies between need and resource use are evident for males, adolescents, and residents of less urbanized areas. Solutions require a combination of public education, provider training, attention to physician availability and practice patterns, and continuous monitoring of how resources are allocated relative to need.