Trump Presidency: What this Means for Your Mental Health Care

 

I’m going to touch upon a few things with some educated guessing since at this point we have no information on any strategy for changing the healthcare system, including the Affordable Healthcare Act (aka. Obamacare).

Medications

Big Pharma may be big winners in this election. There is a good chance regulation will decrease which means drugs will be pushed through the regulatory process. There is also a very good chance your medications will get more expensive Obamacare will be directly targeted for dismantling. At this point, the federal government has some impact on what drug makers charge (at least for Medicare, Tricare and Medicaid clients). There is a very real fear that whenever there is a conflict between industry and clients/customers, the Trump administration may very well choose big business.

Affordable Health Care Act – Obamacare

This was one of Trump’s big targets and will likely be a focal point as the Trump administration sharpens its agenda in 2017. One big problem with Trump’s over simplistic promise to ‘get rid of Obamacare’ is that it took years and years to recalibrate and organize healthcare at the federal, state and corporate levels. Billions of dollars went into this law. Changing the law will take years and years and more billions. Insurance rates have gone up for many people and that hurts. But, the dismantling of Obamacare will likely have a dramatic and catastrophic effect on providers, clients and hospitals. The prediction at this point is that while the current system is experiencing growing pains, the replacement will likely compromise the little leverage we have over insurance companies meaning they will go back to charging whatever they want and having pre existing conditions the hallmark of how they keep people from needed care.

Mental Health Parity and Addiction Equity Act (MHPAEA)

The Mental Health Parity and Addiction Equity Act of 2008 (MHPAEA) is a federal law that generally prevents group health plans and health insurance issuers that provide mental health or substance use disorder benefits from imposing less favorable benefit limitations on those benefits than on medical benefits. With the Trump administration taking the reigns in a few months, there is the possibility the act could be dismantled in favor of insurance companies, most of which have fought, lied and deceived policyholders from the very beginning of the law in 2009. What this means for you: Insurers may no longer be required to pay for comparable level of mental health and substance abuse treatment as you have within your medical policy.

I will continue to monitor Trump policy changes and post again soon. Till then, take a deep breath, stock up on canned goods and sweep out your bomb shelter. We’re likely in for a wild ride.

Opioid Epidemic: John Oliver Sums it Up Best on HBO

Don’t Think Pain Meds and Heroin is Really a Big Deal? Check Out What the Surgeon General Just Did…

Surgeon General Writes to Every Doctor in U.S. About Opioid Epidemic

Opioid abuse is not like other problems. With very little use, pain meds and heroin can quickly become an addiction. This addiction has unusual drug dealers. Some are intentional (Big Pharma like Purdue Pharma, Cephalon, Janssen Pharmaceuticals, Endo Health Solutions and Actavis) that exploit our pain and desperation. Other’s are likely well-meaning like primary care doctors most of whom are manipulated by the pharmaceutical companies to write prescriptions.

If you or a loved one is prescribed pain meds, take this seriously. Use as little as possible and work closely with your doctor. If you can’t stop, get help immediately. The longer someone abuses opioids, the harder it is to get back on track.

Missouri: Only State Not on Prescription Drug Monitoring Program

It was a mystery for the last few years – why were so many people going to Missouri to get their prescriptions (…mostly opioids like Vicodin/Lortab or Oxycodone)? Mystery solved. As of 2012, Missouri was the only state in the United States that did not participate in a national registry for prescription drugs.

Just in case you forgot where Missouri is

Just in case you forgot where Missouri is

Let’s dive a bit deeper…

What’s The prescription drug monitoring program?

Better known as PDMP, it’s an online database that collects data on controlled substance prescriptions dispensed within each participating state. It can act as an early warning system for prescribers to avoid dangerous drug interactions and to ensure quality patient care. 

PDMP is also a tool that also can be used to intervene in the early stages of prescription drug abuse, as well as to assist providers in preventing prescription drug abuse and enable providers of pain medications to know if they are treating someone who has been “doctor shopping”  (going from doctor to doctor for multiple prescriptions).

PDMP does not impact the legal prescribing of drugs by a provider – it simply makes it possible to spot a potential problems or trends.

Why Missouri Doesn’t want PDMP?

Well, Missouri kind-of does want PDMP. In 2012 the state came oh so close to enacting PDMP. But while proponents say most Missouri citizens and legislators support participation in PDMP, it has been blocked by lawmakers like State Senator Rob Schaaf, a family doctor who argues (…inaccurately in my humble opinion) that allowing the government to keep prescription records violates a patient’s personal privacy. He’s probably referring to HIPAA and/or HITECH which are privacy laws that protect a patient’s health records. After successfully combating the 2012 version of the Missouri legislative bill, Dr. Schaaf said of drug abusers, “If they overdose and kill themselves, it just removes them from the gene pool.” Dr. Schaaf is seemingly more focused on individuals liberty (…for prescription drugs) than on life. Fortunately, he appears to be in the minority within Missouri.

How to access the PDMP information

It’s not so easy. You’ve got to be a doctor, part of the legal system or law enforcement to get access. The PDMP data is stored by specified statewide regulatory, administrative or law enforcement agency as designated by state law. The agency distributes data from the database to individuals who are authorized under state law to receive the information. Information is shared across state lines when needed. 

Muir Wood Expands… Reaching for Alta Mira Recovery

Scott Sowle, the founder and executive director of Muir Wood Adolescent & Family Services (Sonoma County, CA) teamed up with private investors to acquire the residential and outpatient addiction and co-occurring disorders treatment organization from Constellation Behavioral Health. Constellation Behavioral Health operates Alta Mira Recovery Programs in California.

Muir Wood will operate as a stand-alone program focused on youth treatment, run by founder and executive director Scott Sowle. They will be expanding their residential treatment capacity by adding a residential campus for adolescent girls program. Constellation Behavioral Health operates Alta Mira Recovery Programs in California. Muir Wood will expand its residential treatment capacity for young males from its present 6 beds to 10. The adolescent male program, housed on a six-acre campus, includes weekly family programming, experiential therapies, and an accredited academic program.

Insider’s Guide: Getting Insurance to Pay for Residential Treatment

imagesThis is our second installment on how to get insurance to pay for residential treatment and therapeutic programs. Below is some great information to help you beat the insurance companies at their own game. Insurance companies count on your ignorance, laziness and distractibility to avoid paying for services they are legally obligated to cover. 

With the Affordable Healthcare Act and the Mental Health Parity Act in full swing it’s time to learn how to get the most out of the insurance you pay for. We’ve included some tricks, strategies and how-to’s to help you out. Though we’re focusing on Residential Treatment for our discussion here, this info is applicable to therapeutic programs like wilderness programs, therapeutic boarding schools and intensive outpatient programs.

Ok, let’s get started with some basics… 

What If I Need Additional Help?

First, read through everything below. These strategies are time consuming and require steady attention but they are not impossible. If you still don’t feel confident in holding your insurer accountable, contact us for a free consult and we’ll help you figure out how to move forward. 

What is the Insurance Company’s Criteria for Residential Treatment?

…Or more importantly, how does an insurer define residential treatment? Each insurer has their own definition but most have virtually identical criteria. For our purposes, residential treatment is defined as specialized mental, behavioral health or substance abuse treatment that occurs in a residential (overnight) treatment center where the provider is responsible for clinical service, safety, shelter, and food.

Licensure differs by state, but these facilities are typically designated either as residential, subacute, or intermediate care facilities and may occur in care systems that provide multiple levels of care. Residential treatment is 24 hours per day and often requires a minimum of one physician (or psychiatrist) visit per week in a facility based setting. 

What Specific Criteria Do They Look For?

Now, let’s drill down a bit more and look at some of the more common criteria requirements insurance companies are looking for when determining whether to pay for residential treatment to a struggling teen or young adult. 

  • Was there a sincere attempt to first use evidence-based outpatient therapy in the home community by a licensed professional before residential treatment was requested and outpatient therapy did not work? Basically, they want evidence that you tried outpatient therapy with weekly sessions (or more often) and because it was not effective, a more intensive level of care like residential treatment was justified.
  • Prior to admission, did you contact your health plan for list of in-network residential treatment options? More on this later – what to do if you can not find a good option.
  • Is there uncontrollable risk-taking to self or others or other dangerous behavior?
  • Has there been a documentable and rapid decrease in level of functioning in one or more life domains. Another way to describe it is a decline in functioning resulting in the ability to perform self-care. 
  • Is there a likelihood of no improvement in current environment (ie. home or college)
  • Is there a reasonable expectation that patient will improve in residential setting and be able to return to outpatient therapy for aftercare? 

How to Request this Higher Level of Care?

Now that you understand the criteria, let’s talk about how to actually request residential treatment. 

  • Write a letter strongly recommending admission to residential treatment 
  • Provide copies of assessments and testing performed by a licensed professional that indicate 1) a formal diagnosis and 2) specific recommendations that list residential treatment.
  • Explain how outpatient therapy has not been successful
  • Explain why current circumstances make it unlikely that patient will show improvement (ie. Improvement is not likely in home setting due to social stressors such as negative peers that sell drugs but remain in the environment)
  • Document unsafe, declining behaviors – show symptoms and behaviors that represent a decline from usual state and include either self-injurious or risk-taking behavior that cannot be managed outside of 24 hr care. Can your kid maintain abstinence outside of 24 hr care? 
  • Explain that the residential treatment program uses evidence-based clinical interventions.
  • Request the residential treatment program directly contact your insurer for pre-authorization. Pre-authorization is the insurance company’s way of giving formal permission to use a higher (and more expensive) level of care. Make sure to obtain the tracking number and verification of the call from the residential treatment program. If approved, obtain written authorization confirming admission approval.

After you send off your request, your insurer should should respond in 5 days. Don’t wait that long – call them every day to find out the status of your request. Yes, seriously – call every day. 

Accepted! Now Some Additional Insurance Mandates

The insurance company accepted your request (more below on what happens when they do not accept it) and a wave of relief comes over you planning for some quiet time once your kid is safely transitioned. But before you get too comfy, there are a few things you want to make sure the residential treatment program will do to ensure insurance covers as much as possible. It’s easier to ask these questions during the admissions process rather than at discharge. Here’s a list of what to look for or ask for:

  • A basic physical during admission (urine screening for drug facility)
  • Onsite nursing and 24hr access to med care
  • Multidisciplinary assessment (also called a Biopsychosocial Intake) performed within 72 hr of admission, including information obtained from patient’s previous providers (ie. therapist, primary care physician)
  • Individual therapy with a licensed therapist (ie. LPC, LCSW, LMFT) at least one time per week
  • Weekly meetings with doctor for medication management
  • Weekly family therapy
  • Discharge plan created one week after admission which acts as a set of exit criteria
  • Licensed in the state in which they are located. Some facilities are owned by huge companies in another state. Make sure they are credentialed and licensed.

Denied. Now on to The Appeal Process

Denials are just a way of life in the therapeutic treatment world but it’s certainly not the end. Here are some information on what to do when you experience a denial.

  • First Thing – Do not let the denial get you mad and do not attempt to use logic, common sense or science to understand why. Insurance is a business and their business model is take in money and pay for as little service as possible – period. 
  • If residential treatment is verbally denied, request written denial. They must deny in writing and often will send the residential treatment program as well as the insured person a copy. 
  • Do not just ignore the denial and send your kid off unless you are willing to pay out of pocket and work your tail off at discharge to get the insurer to pay for it.
  • How to appeal depends upon the reason for denial. The insurance company will likely list specific criteria either your kid or the residential treatment program did not meet.
  • If the insurer states that residential treatment is not a covered benefit but they offer  other mental/behavioral health benefits, they are required by law to pay. In Harlick v Blue Cross of California – On August 26, 2011 the court confirmed that California’s Mental Health Parity Act requires health plans to provide coverage of “all medically necessary treatment” for “severe mental illnesses” under “the same financial terms as those applied to physical illnesses,” and are obligated to pay for residential treatment for people with eating disorders even if the policy excludes residential treatment.

And It’s Still Denied – What Next?

If you submit an appeal with additional information and site the law but still are denied or hear nothing, you can request an independent review from your state’s regulatory body that oversees insurance compliance. It’s amazing how quickly insurance companies can ‘find missing paperwork’ or reverse a denial when regulators and attorney’s get involved. 

  • Send a certified-mail cover letter describing the dispute
  • Provide all relevant evaluations, assessments and testing you already sent to the insurer
  • Submit a doctor’s letter stating care is medically necessary
  • You can also hire an attorney that specializes in insurance issues like this. They are often worth their specialist price tag.

Plan B – If You Can Afford It

If residential is denied and you don’t want to push the insurer for whatever reason, you can pay out of pocket for room and board and try to get the clinical services covered. This approach is often what is equivalent to out-of-network coverage. The insurer is more likely to cover outpatient therapy, group therapy and medication management (virtually the same as if client was living at home and going to therapy).

You can also request that the residential treatment primary therapist get a single case agreement which forces the insurer to pay at in-network rate and you only owe the copay, as usual. 

What if Our Family Member is at Therapeutic Boarding School?

With the growth of therapeutic boarding schools, we’ve received a ton of questions about how insurance pays for the clinical aspects of these hybrid programs. Here are some tricks we’ve picked up over the years:

  • Think like the insurance company – they want to hear your son or daughter is being referred to as a patient and not a student.
  • Make sure to request a physical assessment is done at admissions. This promotes the perspective that he/she is a patient and not a student. Remember – we want the insurer to understand this is a therapeutic program, not as much an academic program.
  • We also want to ensure the program is keeping daily records such as treatment plan updates, nursing and medical notes and service notes – health plans will want copies. We want to be documenting progress as well as setbacks. 

When we conduct placement services, we always request the therapeutic program develop a treatment plan with some specific exit criteria. The first day of treatment is the first day of discharge planning. Some plans will want exit criteria so err on the side of having the program provide it early on. It’s also a good clinical practice to give the providers a clear target. 

In Which State Should Insurance Regulators Be Notified if Insurance Refuses to Cooperate?

The state in which treatment is being provided is where insurance regulators should be contacted if your insurance company refuses to play nicely. The state in which you live may be where your insurance is attached, but legal oversight for provision of service and insurance regulation is in the treatment state. 

Can Insurance Pay for Services Retroactively?

Theoretically, yes. Practically, it’s pretty difficult and will require regular attention and contact with the insurer. They will likely ‘lose’ applications, claim forms and anything else you send. If you get insurance to agree to pay for residential treatment or other therapeutic services after treatment has started, you can request for retroactive coverage. It’s best to write a letter (and send it certified mail and keep a copy for your records) stating why you didn’t understand or it was not stated clearly in a policy that treatment was covered. 

Will Insurance Cover Partial Hospitalization Programs (PHP)?

Partial Hospitalization Programs or PHPs is typically a level of care designed for individuals who need structured mental health, behavioral health or substance abuse programming but do not need 24-hour supervision (ie. inpatient or hosplitalization). Many hospitals and residential treatment programs offer partial hospitalization or day treatment services. Good PHPs are designed to provide support, education, medical monitoring and accountability during the hours of the day often identified as most troublesome for patients. Patients participate in therapeutic groups, structured activities and discharge planning similar to those offered in the inpatient and residential programs. Many patients who have been in an inpatient or residential program can “step down” to this level of care because it continues to provide a high amount of structure and support. 

Insurance generally covers PHP at a per diem rate (daily rate) but will not cover overnight which the hospital or treatment program may charge extra for. Make sure to clearly understand how the treatment center charges for PHP before signing up. Also make sure insurance covers it and what portion it covers. 

So we covered several of the topics and tricks that can help you navigate the insurance company maze when it comes to paying for residential treatment. If you need additional help, contact us today – help@fonthillbehavioralhealth.com 

5 Signs of Suicide Risk in College Students

FACT: 15% of graduate and 18% of undergrads have seriously considered attempting suicide

FACT: 15% of graduate and 18% of undergrads have seriously considered attempting suicide

There is nothing more exciting than dropping of your college freshman in late August as the cool nights of Autumn return. But not all students carry with them the same energy and positive outlook for the Fall. Some are carrying some heavy baggage from High School or even younger while others don’t start to develop any major issues until they first get to college (and their first taste of freedom from parents). What parents don’t know is that you likely know your college friends (or at least a side of them) better than their own parents do, and you may be able to tell that something is wrong way before anyone else. This quick list is as much for parents as it is for you students out there. 

The following signs might indicate a student is considering suicide:

  1. A good student who’s behavior suddenly changes – they start ignoring assignments and missing classes which are likely signs of depression or drug and alcohol abuse, which can affect their health and happiness and put them at risk of suicide. And yes, good students and good kids use drugs. Seriously. 
  2. Anyone who doesn’t have friends or who suddenly rejects their friends may be at risk. A friend who suddenly rejects you, claiming, “You just don’t get it,” may be having emotional problems.
  3. College students may be physically or emotionally abused by a member of their family or their girlfriend or boyfriend – or suffering from abuse that occurred long ago but triggered by the new college environment. Abusive relationships can make a college student feel like crap about themselves. Signs that a person may be in an abusive relationship include unexplained bruises or other injuries that he or she refuses to discuss. 
  4. This is a common one – Significant changes in a someone’s weight, eating or sleeping patterns, and/or social interaction style may indicate that something is wrong. Eating disorders are super common at college. Lot’s of perceived competition, anxiety and stress that translates into really unhealthy views of one’s self. 
  5. Coming Out? College students may suffer from depression or have thoughts of suicide if they have a difficult time adjusting to their sexual orientation or gender identity. Gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgendered students have higher suicide attempt rates than their heterosexual peers.

We understand regret and their could certainly be a real consequence of getting help for someone who seems to be really hurting. They might get pissed at you for not minding your own business. But think of it this way – is the regret of possibly losing a friend better or worse than the potential of knowing you could have saved your friend’s life but did nothing? Tough choice but that’s part of the burden of mental illness. 

FREE Parent Support Group: Residential Treatment and Higher Levels of Care

If you are a parent who wants to learn more about residential treatment for your teen or young adult child, our Parent Support Group is for you. This group is specially designed for Parents of Teens and Young Adult Children either in residential treatment or in need of residential treatment. Whether you have an acting out teen obsessed with gaming or a daughter exhibiting what seems like an eating disorder, residential treatment may be an option. But how do you choose? How do you know the good ones from the bad? We will walk you through the basics of the therapeutic program world through a discussion format. 

Topics will range from residential and treatment options, how to creatively pay for programs and use insurance, myths vs reality of treatment, parenting advice and skill building, and finally, sharing and venting. This is also an open forum to address any other problems related to acting out teens/adults – you’re not alone. 

WHEN

Mondays 7:00pm Starting September 8

WHERE

Fonthill Counseling Conference Room – 141 Providence Rd Suite 160 Chapel Hill NC 27514

COST

Free

FACILITATOR

Licensed therapist with expertise in residential treatment, counseling and parenting education will lead didactic, interactive and experiential sessions.  

RSVP

Due to limited seating, preregistration is required. Please email us at help@fonthillcounseling for sign-up instructions. 

Program Review: Kolmac Clinic

In May 2014 Dr. Marino visited The Kolmac Clinic with six locations spread around the Washington DC, Maryland and Virginia region. This is your classic substance abuse program geared towards adults. Kolmac has been around since 1976 and slowly increased the depth and breadth of services with a consistent focus on drug abuse treatment. 
 
What They Do
 
Kolmac offers IOP levels of care in group format. Initially patients will attend three hours of group IOP sessions five times a week. Next, individuals step down to less frequent group meeting, ending with just once weekly group. Kolmac noted they are a CBT program and encourage patients to use AA for outside support. Providers who refer to Kolmac often are able to continue outpatient therapy or decide to transfer to Kolmac until the initial treatment course has reduced in frequency. 
 
Kolmac also provides outpatient detoxification. Each location is staffed with medical providers and mental health providers. Patients are able to go through detox during the day and return home in the evenings. 
 
Who They Serve
 
The Kolmac Clinic provides outpatient rehabilitation and treatment programs for adults with alcohol, drug, and other substance abuse problems. Because Kolmac is an outpatient treatment center, patients can receive rehab help without taking leave from work or family responsibility.
 
Locations

Kolmac Clinic has six locations in Washington DC area. Unfortunately the program does not offer services in Virginia, but has locations in downtown DC and Maryland. Each site boosts group treatment tailored to the population in need. For example, the Towson, MD site has a larger population of young adults and targets programming to this population. The K St location specializes in corporate executive’s substance concerns. 

During the visit to he K St location, the office appeared dated and office presentation seemed less important (e.g., stain on rug, old furniture). Staff appeared friendly, but often passed through the waiting room (in the middle of the office) without acknowledging guests waiting for appointments.

Fees + Insurance + Financing

The daily charges are $400 for detoxification, $193 for rehabilitation, $120 for the initial clinical evaluation and $100 for continuing care. Most insurance plans cover part or all of the costs at Kolmac. The exact out-of-pocket expense for the patient varies accordingly. Patients interested in treatment with us should call with insurance information and our staff will explain costs.  Once the patient has scheduled an appointment our staff will verify the insurance coverage.  Payment plans are available if needed.

The clinic accepts all insurances except Tricare and state funded plans (e.g., medicare and medicaid). 

Reviews

There is quite the mixed bag of reviews found online. With an agency the size of Kolmac, this is to be expected. There generally are either really terrible reviews or really great reviews without much in between. This is one of those clinics we HIGHLY recommend visiting first before you make a decision about starting treatment with them. 

Contact Information 

Best way to reach them is through their online contact form found here or their general number at 301.589.0255. 

Final Thoughts
 
Overall, the staff at Kolmac seemed friendly and knowledgeable. Staff also seemed genuinely interested in learning about resources and referral options in the community.