Background Co-payments, used to control rising costs of healthcare, may lead to disruption of appropriate outpatient care and to increases in acute crisis treatment or hospital admission in patients with schizophrenia. An abrupt rise in co-payments in 2012 in the Netherlands offered a natural experiment to study the effects of co-payments on continuity of healthcare in schizophrenia. Methods Retrospective longitudinal registry-based cohort study. Outcome measures were (i) continuity of elective (planned) psychiatric care (outpatient care and/or antipsychotic medication); (ii) acute psychiatric care (crisis treatment and hospital admission); and (iii) somatic care per quarter of the years 2009-2014. Results 10 911 patients with schizophrenia were included. During the six-year follow-up period the level of elective psychiatric outpatient care (-20%); and acute psychiatric care (-37%) decreased. Treatment restricted to antipsychotic medication (without concurrent outpatient psychiatric care) increased (67%). The use of somatic care also increased (24%). Use of acute psychiatric care was highest in quarters when only antipsychotic medication was received. The majority (59%) of patients received continuous elective psychiatric care in 2009-2014. Patients receiving continuous care needed only half the acute psychiatric care needed by patients not in continuous care. On top of these trends time series analysis (ARIMA) showed that the abrupt rise in co-payments from 2012 onwards coincided with significant increases in stand-alone treatment with antipsychotic medication and acute psychiatric care. Conclusions The use of psychiatric care decreased substantially among a cohort of patients with schizophrenia. The high rise in co-payments from 2012 onwards coincided with significant increases in stand-alone treatment with antipsychotic medication and acute psychiatric care.