It’s happening. As predicted, and in an earlier post by David (Impact of ACA on BHC), healthcare agencies are in serious preparatory mode; a response to the Obama administrations’ rules to expand access to mental health care across the nation.
This is an exciting time to work in the behavioral health care industry, with experts expecting an unprecedented increase in access to much needed services. Indeed, although mental health parity laws were enacted years ago in many states, there were those who belonged to small group health plans that found themselves excluded or limited to only certain types of treatment.
On behalf of the 62 million plus Americans who will now gain access to mental health and substance abuse coverage, or see improved protections under this federal health reform, Michigan US Sen. Debbie Stabenow, who authored the Affordable Care Act’s provisions on behavioral health coverage states,
“This is a watershed moment for mental health treatment. For the first time, treatment will be as accessible for health conditions above the neck as for health conditions below the neck.”
A recent conference of the National Alliance on Mental Illness in Minnesota saw Mid-West behavioral health experts celebrate the new rules that they believe will make it a lot easier for patients diagnosed with mental illness to be treated just like anyone else who’s coming in for health care.
“People who have mental illness tend to avoid treatment, sometimes for as a long as a decade,” said Donna Zimmerman, Senior Vice President for government and community relations in Minnesota for HealthPartners. She said the new rules could ease their concerns.
“Mental health parity will help decrease stigma because people will be able to get treatment, they’ll have coverage, so there won’t be any barriers in terms of access to treatment.”
Of course, with greater access to coverage comes a serious need for more providers. In some states, officials are questioning the number of private-practice behavioral health providers; will there be enough to meet the potential demand generated by new patients?
One who doesn’t think so is Mary Jane Argentos, a clinical psychologist in Oklahoma who believes her state has too few practicing psychiatrists and psychologists. This issue will be exacerbated not only when the new law comes in, but with the growing number of returning veterans requiring treatment.
Surveys show there are only about 50,000 psychiatrists in the United States. According to the APA, that number is already too few to care for the existing number of people seeking treatment.
One suggestion to address this problem, beyond training primary care doctors in mental health, comes from Mira Signer, Executive Director of the Virginia chapter of the National Alliance on Mental Illness;
“Create referral networks between the front-line doctors and psychiatrists so that the most seriously ill quickly get the help they need.”
Still, whether as a behavioral health care provider in private practice you agree with such a referral program (it’s been happening in New Mexico) or not, there is one thing we can all agree on in this time of upheaval and seed sowing: take advantage of the technology available to you.
Valant is dedicated to this niche market. We pride ourselves on having the answers to questions asked by our specialized clientele of psychiatrists, psychologists, prescribing nurse practitioners and mental health practice administrative staff. Our practice management system simply makes life easier – and will continue to do so – as providers prepare for increased business with insured patients.
This is healthcare reform at its game changing best. Let us help you with the logistics, the billing codes, the reimbursement rates…
Your business will change so let’s make sure it’s for the better.
AUTHOR: Louisa Farrar