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Doctors say insurance companies are altering telehealth mental health coverage in Texas amid COVID-19

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Posted at 3:12 PM, Jun 16, 2020
and last updated 2020-06-17 18:54:39-04

CENTRAL TEXAS — ***The following is in regard to temporary COVID-19 telehealth policies.***

Growing concerns from mental health professionals are amplifying, as insurance coverage in the state of Texas prepare to alter and review their temporary telehealth mental health counseling policies.

"That was very disconcerting because of the potential dangers to providers and clients" explained Licensed Practicing Counselor Rachel Nichols, saying the notification she received from insurance companies came as a shock.

"That caught my attention and it did many other mental health professionals," said Nichols."The expansion to telehealth service has really shown that there are pockets in this country and its citizens that were not being reached by traditional forms of health care" explained Jeremy Berry, a Ph.D. and associate professor of counseling and psychology at Texas A&M Central Texas.

"It’s a win-win as far as we're concerned, for the clients and ourselves," said Nichols discussing the benefits telehealth brings.

Mental health experts explaining they find it dangerous to limit coverage during this time, as stress and anxiety are high.

25 News spoke with The Texas Counseling Association who explained these changes will affect many of the hundreds of thousands of Texans who sought mental health guidance during this time.

"This is really a tragedy, because of the anxiety that so many people feel, about going out to the public, especially now as we're continuing to see huge spikes across the state of Texas” explained Jan Friese, Executive Director, Texas Counseling Association.

"It’s challenging to understand why an insurance company would not allow people to receive the treatment that is covered by their insurance that they pay for and any modality that will work the best for them,” said Friese.

"Oftentimes, insurance prohibits services being equally distributed amongst communities, and its citizens and that entirely too problematic," said Berry.

Many professionals now explaining they feel forced to go back to in-person doctor/patient visits, which makes many uncomfortable as COVID-19 cases are once again on the rise.

"I think to reduce mental health services at this critical time would be unsafe," said Nichols. Dr. Berry said the consistency and low rate of no-show appointments has allowed many to received exemplary help during this time of telehealth.

"In order to be able to do our jobs properly we need our clients to be consistent with treatment, and you just can't do that when appointments are hit and miss...I know myself and every helping professional that I've met got into this line of work certainly not for the pay but because they want to help people, and the single greatest obstacle to that has be insurance companies, and there is just no way to ignore that," said Berry.

This problem is believed by mental health experts to be unique to Texas, as other states have worked to make telehealth mental health counseling a permanent fixture in their medical coverage.

“We know that one of the long term side effects of this pandemic will be some very very significant emotional and mental health challenges, for everyone, everyone,” said Friese.

"When we decide, prioritizing people's care is more important than filling people's bank accounts things are going to get a lot better they just are," said Dr. Berry in closing.

Those with The Texas Counseling Association explained it through advocacy that telehealth was covered in the first place.

“We were able to convince the governor to include telehealth services when he first issued his executive order,” said Friese.

Friese further explaining it will be through advocacy now in which telehealth extensions will be possible.

The Texas Counseling Association advises contacting the Governor’s office, the Texas Department of Insurance, state representatives and insurance providers to ensure each voice is heard in regard to telehealth coverage.

Health insurance plans are reviewing and reevaluating their mental health telehealth coverage and considers altering coverage as of these dates:

  • Blue Cross Blue Shield of Texas, June 30
  • Cigna, July 31
  • Optum, July 24
  • Aetna, September 30
  • Humana, December 31

25 News is working with state mental health experts to understand when and how this could impact the public.