Does Medi-Cal Cover Mental Health Services?

Henna Geronimo
November 9, 2023

Medi-Cal is California's Medicaid program, providing essential health benefits to those in need. It's a program that many California residents rely on, especially when they require mental health care—a service as critical as any physical health need.

The significance of mental health care has never been more important. To understand Medi-cal better, this blog will outline what it covers, zeroing in on the behavioral health benefits under mental health parity laws.

From therapy sessions as outpatient services to more intensive inpatient treatment, we'll clarify how Medi-Cal attends to mental health care needs.

behavioral health benefits
Source: Roots Mental Wellness

Understanding Medi-Cal's Scope

Medi-Cal is a robust healthcare plan that ensures a wide range of medical services are accessible to enrollees. It opens the door to free or low-cost health coverage for residents who meet the program's eligibility requirements.

Most beneficiaries will receive care through managed health plans coordinating a comprehensive suite of services. This includes regular check-ups, emergency services, dental care, vision services, and long-term care, catering to a diverse group from infants to teens and older adults. Within this broad spectrum of services, mental health services are a priority.

It reflects a modern understanding of healthcare that treats mental and physical health equally. Medi-Cal's approach aligns with the mental health parity laws, which mandate that insurance coverage for mental health services be provided on par with medical and surgical services.

Mental health services under Medi-Cal are comprehensive. For those dealing with mild to moderate mental health conditions, outpatient services such as counseling, medication management, and therapy sessions are available.

For others facing more severe psychiatric conditions, Medi-Cal extends to include inpatient treatment, providing the necessary higher levels of care like psychiatric hospitalization and support for complex mental health conditions.

This integration of mental health into the broader scheme ensures that Medi-Cal members receive a continuum of care that addresses all aspects of health, emphasizing the program's commitment to holistic well-being.

Mental Health Parity Laws

Mental health parity laws are laws designed to eliminate the disparity in insurance coverage between mental health services and physical health care. It mandates that the scope, limits, and financial requirements for mental health benefits are no more restrictive than those for physical health benefits.

It ensures that beneficiaries requiring mental health care can access services such as psychiatric treatment, counseling, and substance use disorder therapy at the same level as they would for other medical concerns like surgeries or hospital stays.

The impact of these laws is profound for those enrolled in Medi-Cal. This legal assurance encourages individuals to seek out the care they need without the added stress of potential financial discrimination.

mental health parity laws

Specific Mental Health Services Covered by Medi-Cal

Understanding the range of mental health services covered by Medi-Cal is vital for beneficiaries seeking support. Here's a closer look at the specific types of services that are included:

Outpatient Services

Medi-Cal provides comprehensive outpatient services, which are often the first line of defense in mental health care. This includes individual and group counseling, various forms of therapy, and medication management.

Designed for accessibility and continuity, these services support individuals, including teens, with various mental health needs. It allows them to manage their conditions without the disruption of hospitalization.

Inpatient Services

For situations requiring more intensive care, Medi-Cal covers inpatient services. This includes psychiatric hospitalization for acute mental health conditions, where round-the-clock care and supervision are provided. Residential treatment programs are also available. They offer structured therapeutic environments for longer-term care that outpatient services alone cannot address.

Specialty Mental Health Services

Recognizing the complexity of mental health conditions, Medi-Cal offers specialty mental health services. These are tailored for individuals with severe mental illnesses or serious emotional disturbances.

These specialized services are crucial for managing complex conditions and are committed to providing age-appropriate care that can adapt to the unique challenges younger populations face.

Crisis Intervention and Stabilization

In times of acute psychological distress, immediate intervention is critical. Medi-Cal covers services for crisis intervention and stabilization, providing urgent care to those experiencing a mental health crisis. These services are designed to de-escalate situations quickly, provide immediate therapeutic interventions, and establish a safe environment for the individual.

outpatient services
Source: Roots Mental Wellness

Eligibility and Access

Accessing mental health services through Medi-Cal is guided by clear eligibility criteria. It ensures that those in need can find support, including options for an affordable therapist in California.

Eligibility is primarily determined by factors such as income level, family size, and disability status, among others, aligning to provide healthcare for low-income individuals and families.

Once eligibility is confirmed, beneficiaries can use Medi-Cal's mental health services. The referral process typically begins with a visit to a primary care physician or a Medi-Cal managed care plan, who can then refer the individual to a mental health professional.

Beneficiaries can also directly access services through county mental health departments, which partner with Medi-Cal. These departments can help navigate the system, making mental health care attainable and reducing the barriers to accessing such care.

Limitations and Considerations

While Medi-Cal strives to offer comprehensive mental health services, beneficiaries should be aware of certain limitations and considerations within the program. Understanding these can help in effectively navigating the system and accessing needed care.

Caps on Services

Medi-Cal may have caps on the frequency or type of mental health services provided. For instance, there might be a limit on the number of therapy sessions one can attend within a year or restrictions on the types of therapy covered. These caps are determined by clinical guidelines and the necessity of the service for the beneficiary's condition.

Prior Authorizations and Referrals

Accessing some mental health services may require prior authorizations or referrals, especially for specialized treatments or inpatient care. This means that before receiving services, approval must be obtained from Medi-Cal. This ensures that the services are medically necessary and within the program's scope.

Beneficiaries should also consider that while Medi-Cal covers a range of service providers, not all therapists or psychiatrists may be within the Medi-Cal network. To avoid unexpected costs, you must verify whether a chosen provider is covered under Medi-Cal.


Wrapping up, it's evident that Medi-Cal isn't just a health plan—it's your partner in maintaining and improving mental health. With its expansive coverage, Medi-Cal is committed to ensuring you have the support you need for a healthier mind.

Take the opportunity to make the most of your Medi-Cal benefits. Embrace the care options available, including those provided by Roots Mental Wellness, where Medi-Cal coverage is welcomed.

Call Roots Mental Wellness today and let your journey to better mental health begin.

Henna Geronimo
Contributing Writer