It is almost the end of year for 2013. The law for mental health professionals to bill for Medicare reimbursements is still not passed by Congress. The Affordable Healthcare Act goes into effect next month in which some insurers will be lowering reimbursements for outpatient mental health services. President Obama is supporting improved and increased mental health services for individuals who are at-risk or are mentally ill in 2014. I am for the President’s initiative to provide quality and accessible services for the above populations. However, unless something is done to retain qualified mental health professionals with more than adequate salaries and/or modest increases for fee for service clinicians, nothing is going to get better for the people who need our services.
I am calling on the members and the American Counseling Association to advocate and to promote our profession across the country. It is time for also the regional branches to brainstorm ideas and action plans to educate and to inform the communities and legislators on the value of our work. We need to collaborate with the National Association of Social Workers to develop a solid campaign to increase our reimbursements from insurance companies so we can better serve our clients. Below are two examples on how one professional association advocated to be paid in a timely manner while unskilled or semi-skilled workers demanded a fair wage to support their families.
In Massachusetts, the Dental Association spoke up about their disgust with the state’s Mass Health Department (Medicaid) for not paying them in a timely manner. A few years ago, dentists across the state stopped seeing their clients after Mass Health did not pay them for their services. As a result of their voices being heard, the state legislators pressured Mass Health to change their business practices in paying dentists in a timely manner. In the last two weeks, we have seen on national television food workers on strike for demanding that they receive $ 15.00 an hour as a livable wage. Did you know mental health professionals make a similar wage when they spend an extra an hour and a half to complete their diagnostic paperwork after their first visits with their clients in an agency setting?
In Massachusetts, a coalition of Human Service Agencies and parents for increased and quality mental health services have testified to state legislators for an increase in reimbursements from insurance companies so agencies can stay in business and not shut their doors. Did you know that neither the Mental Health Counselor Association nor the National Association of Social Workers had representatives involved with this coalition? Why aren’t our voices being heard with this coalition? Why are people speaking up for increased payments for us but without us?
In summary, I will use the slogan from the Disability Rights Movement: Nothing about Us Without Us. Let 2014 be the year that our voices be heard for earning a decent wage and providing quality services for our clients.
Robbin Miller is a counselor who specializes in mindfulness meditation; Positive Psychology; and Cognitive-Behavioral Therapies; and is also a volunteer cable access producer and co-host of her show, "Miller Chat" in Massachusetts.