Mental Health Care Professionals Protest Insurer's Cuts

September 15, 2017 03:40 PM

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More than 50 mental health care professionals held a peaceful protest Thursday at Blue Cross and Blue Shield Headquarters in Eagan.

Concerns have been raised about the sustainability of mental health care services in Minnesota. This after Minnesota's largest health insurer said it is cutting payments for mental health care.

Felixia Valerius, a clinical counselor in the Twin Cities, criticized the company for slashing reimbursement costs to mental health care providers by up to 30 percent.

"Mental health is important, and it's something that is not going down without a fight," she said.

Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Minnesota released a statement on the matter:

"Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Minnesota recently corrected overpayment errors in our systems that had been paying mental health professionals more than what was outlined in their contracts. All therapists are now being paid accurately. Additionally, on January 1, 2018, we are implementing reductions to the rates billed for psychotherapy sessions that last 53 minutes or longer in order to bring those costs more in line with industry norms."

Sue Abderholden, the Executive Director of the National Alliance on Mental Illness, said potential cuts could affect services offered in the mental health care industry, and potentially close smaller clinics.

"Mental health is already an underfunded system," she said. "Getting any kind of cut makes it really difficult for providers to exist and to recruit new professionals into the field."

Abderholden said some of the rates for an hour of therapy can be as low as $75 to $80 - compared to $100 or more.

She said the utilization rate of mental health services is higher than it was in prior years, but that is no excuse for Blue Cross to cut costs.

"That's a good thing because we never served up to 100 percent of people with mental illness under Medicaid as we do now," she said.

"With the Affordable Care Act changes and Medicaid expansion we were able to hit close to 60 percent."

That, Abderholden said, began the ramp-up to current numbers.

She said if people do not receive mental health care, other health care costs go up.

That's why she and a network of health care professionals are communicating with Blue Cross and Blue Shield to discuss the impact of the cuts.

A spokesperson for the company issued a statement:

"Blue Cross met with several leaders from the behavioral health community. This was a productive dialogue on how we can collaborate more closely moving forward and find common ground to address ongoing cost pressures within the health care system."

Credits

Cleo Greene

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