Career Opportunities for Psychiatric Nurse Practitioners On the Rise

While changes to our healthcare system are controversial, they bring good news when it comes to employment opportunities for one group- psychiatric mental health nurse practitioners. The Affordable Care Act increases the number of Americans with mental health coverage and nurse practitioners are being called on to help handle this newly insured patient population. With this bright job outlook however, NPs can expect to see some corresponding changes coming to their careers.

How is mental health coverage changing under the Affordable Care Act?

One of the major changes made to health insurance under the Affordable Care Act (ACA) was the mandate that insurance plans include mental health coverage. Prior to passing of the ACA, many Americans were covered by insurance plans that did not include psychiatric care. Of those Americans whose insurance plans did cover psychiatric medical problems, many of these diagnoses were considered pre-existing leaving individuals to cover costs on their own.

Now, insurance plans sold on the federal health exchange must include mental and behavioral health coverage. Similarly, Medicaid plans are being held to the same standard. The provision that insurance companies are no longer able to deny coverage based on pre-existing conditions also ensures that individuals with diagnoses such a bipolar disorder and schizophrenia will be covered for these conditions.

Insurance coverage for behavioral and mental health issues remains complex and varies state-to-state, but one thing is certain- changes to mental health coverage under the Affordable Care Act will have massive implications for mental health providers, including nurse practitioners.

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How do these changes affect the job market for nurse practitioners?

Fortunately for nurse practitioners, the expansion of mental health coverage under the Affordable Care Act has positive implications for the NP job market. As the number of insured Americans grows, the demand for nurse practitioners as a whole increases. Now that health plans are required to include mental health coverage, the need for psychiatric health care providers is particularly high.

Nurse practitioners offer a cost effective solution to providing care for the millions of Americans now receiving mental health benefits under their insurance plans. As a result, the Bureau of Labor Statistics estimates that the number of psychiatric nurse practitioners will increase by 36 percent from 2010 to 2020, significantly faster than the rate for other professions.

Not only will the number of psychiatric NPs increase, these new nurse practitioners will have plenty of job options. In speaking with more than 20 nurse practitioner programs this week, all reported that their psychiatric NP program graduates have no difficulty finding jobs with nearly 100 percent employed upon graduation.

What changes can psychiatric nurse practitioners expect to see in their jobs as a result of the ACA?

While the job outlook for psychiatric nurse practitioners is bright, psychiatric NPs could see changes coming to their practices. Like other types of healthcare providers, mental health providers are closing small, independent practices in increasing numbers electing to join together in larger practices or to work within hospital systems.

Navigating the complexities of insurance plans is becoming too much for solo providers to handle, especially as many mental health practices have traditionally operated under a cash pay system. With mental health benefits, most Americans understandably plan to pay for mental health services with insurance. Processing insurance claims and communicating with insurance companies increases the overhead of managing a psychiatric practice and is logistically difficult for a single provider to operate, not to mention finance.

Despite changes in the structure of how mental health care is being delivered, overall it’s a good time to be a practicing or prospective psychiatric NP. The job market for mental health providers is expanding giving psychiatric nurse practitioners more opportunities than ever before.


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