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 

Program Review: The Renfrew Center

Renfrew PicMany years ago I had the pleasure of visiting The Renfrew Center just outside of Philadelphia, PA. At first, I wasn’t sure if this was a gigantic private residence with it’s ancient stone farm house, stables, and quintessential barn. Definitely one of the more beautiful suburban locations for a treatment center I’ve seen. I had my tour of the grounds which look more like an upscale farm (in a good way), talked with the Executive Director about mental health under a giant oak tree, and got to know the program schedule as young women shuffled in and out of the various buildings. Below are more details on Renfrew with my Final Thoughts at the end. 

Background

The Renfrew Center is headquartered in has been serving women with eating disorders and behavioral health issues since 1985. As one of the nation’s first residential eating disorder facility, with 16 locations throughout the country, Renfrew claims to have worked with more than 65,000 women since their founding. The Renfrew Center has experienced it’s most significant growth in the last decade and a half have with the additional of programs across the country. 

Services

The Renfrew Center offers a full continuum of care that supports patients well beyond a residential stay. This comprehensive range of services available at most of their locations, includes day treatment, intensive outpatient and outpatient programs. The services are tailored for each patient and with her referring therapist to develop treatment plans and goals based on her unique needs.

Renfrew maintains continuity in philosophy and approach throughout the individual’s treatment, while facilitating timely transitions from one level of care to another in order to maximize treatment and insurance benefits. 

Residential services are only offered in their Philadelphia, Pa and Coconut Creek, Fl locations. 

Clients

Renfrew works with women over the age of 14 suffering from anorexia nervosa, bulimia nervosa, binge eating disorder, eating disorder not otherwise specified (EDNOS) and related mental health problems.

Locations

Cost
Residential – $8050 per week
They work with most insurers so a significant portion of services may be covered. 

Reviews
Employees on multiple sites give Renfrew some terrible grades for working conditions, diversity of the work force, and work-life balance. Most notably were many comments on Renfew’s seeming focus on profit and not much focus on treatment. They also described poor, untrained supervisors that did little to organize chaotic situations. 

Clients on the other hand often report having a positive experience and feeling somewhat nurtured. There were dozens of reports from clients going back to Renfrew multiple times for support. This could be viewed as good or bad. 
The New York location stood out with many, many negative reviews which highlights an ongoing theme among larger providers like Renfrew – when it comes down to actual effectiveness of a program, everything has to do with the clinicians at specific locations and very little to do with the corporate handlers up above. 

Contact

Here is a link to their online contact form which is probably the best way to get ahold of them. 

Final Thoughts
Oh how I wish programs like Renfrew could just slow down and focus more on quality. I’ve known too many therapists over the years who think poorly of Renfrew’s clinical integrity to feel comfortable referring clients that come to Fonthill. That said, it doesn’t mean women struggling with an ED should avoid Renfrew. I think programs like this have a place in the menu of options, especially if you want treatment close to a major metro area like Philadelphia. Just make sure to make a decision on more than what the admissions folks at Renfrew tell you. Look up reviews, talk with outpatient eating disorder specialists (like Dr. Joanna Marino in Washington, DC) or placement specialists (…like Fonthill ) and do your homework. It’s expensive and takes a huge amount of time to go to Renfrew so don’t rush in. 

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: Veritas Collaborative

In April 2014, Dr. Marino and I visited Veritas Collaborative in Durham, NC, a 2 year old for profit eating disorder treatment program specializing in children and adolescents. Don’t let the age of this program fool you – they clearly know what they’re doing and have some clinical and business heavy-weights in their corner.VC dining pic

 

Below is a write-up of our experiences, thoughts and additional info we gathered together just for you. As always, our perspective as clinicians may be uniquely different from those of perspective clients or their parents. We highly encourage you to do your own research before committing to any program.  

What They Do

Veritas provides Inpatient, Residential Treatment and Partial Hospitalization for adolescents and children with eating disorders. What is key in our description is what is not listed. This means, during a time when other programs do everything for anyone, Veritas has committed to specializing. They have 26 inpatient/acute residential beds and 12 partial hospitalization beds. Below is a description of the three different levels of care (directly from the Veritas Collaborative site).

Inpatient hospitalization is the most intensive level of treatment available. Inpatient treatment is necessary for those who need frequent nursing care or are medically unstable (as determined by vital signs, lab abnormalities, or general physical and psychological condition). Patients who are severely entrenched in their disorders are depressed, suicidal, or are a danger to themselves or others, are also appropriate for this level of care. These patients see a medical doctor daily.

Acute Residential Treatment is a 24-hour monitored, structured treatment program for medically stable patients who still need constant supervision. Nursing care is still provided around the clock, but patients see doctors less frequently. Some individuals are admitted directly to residential treatment while others first go through inpatient treatment and them move to the residential program.VC bdrm pic

The Partial Hospitalization level of care is appropriate for patients who need structured programming but do not need 24-hour supervision. Patients participate in individual and group therapy, structured activities, and programming around meals similar to what is offered in the inpatient and residential programs. Some patients admit directly to this level of care, but many “step down” from the residential or inpatient levels, as partial programming still provides a high amount of structure and support. These patients are medically stable, and can move more readily while maintaining appropriate, non-disordered behaviors without direct supervision.

Another key feature to the Veritas program is the pervasive use of Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) and Dialectical Behavioral Therapy (DBT), both of which are evidence-based treatments for eating disorders and co-occurring mental health issues.

Who They Serve

Veritas serves children and adolescents (both male/female) 10-19 years old from around the country experiencing eating disorders. It’s rare for an eating disorder program to serve younger adolescents and children which is a huge plus. It’s also less common for a program to work with male clients. VC pic

Location

Veritas is located at 615 Douglas St #500, Durham, NC 27705. They sit right next to Duke University. They are 20 minutes from the Raleigh-Durham International Airport (super, super easy airport to travel through) and 2 hours from the Charlotte airport. The parking deck is easily accessed from the road. The building is nondescript but that’s works nicely for those seeking a more discrete treatment experience. 

Fees + Insurance + Financing 

Yes, they accept insurance and will work with you to figure out what is covered.

As with most treatment centers, there are many outside financing agencies that specifically work with mental, behavioral and substance abuse programs.

A quick word about their fees – they wouldn’t say. Not a peep about daily or monthly rates which, in our humble opinion is no bueno. See below in the Reviews section for commentary on this. It’s not unusual for programs to defer questions about cost but they eventually give us an idea (normally as a monthly rate). But not Veritas. 

Reviews

It’s really disappointing and feels a bit awkward when we have a hard time finding negative reviews of a program. Either they’ve done a good job of scrubbing the internet of nasty feedback or…. they actually provide great service. From all around the intertubes we scoured parent blogs, professional review sites as well as the more general review sites. So what’s out there? What’s the overall judgement of this fledgling treatment center? Mostly just really nice praise for the staff, treatment and program as a whole. The thing that kept on coming up over and over was Veritas’s involvement of the whole family – which happens to be another key feature they told us about on our tour. Family work is at the core of how they impact the client’s treatment. 

One negative in our view is discussion of cost. We really, really like programs to be up front about what the estimated costs for service will be. It’s not that we expect a solid dollar amount since we know as well as the next professional that expenses can go up or down depending on loads of variables. But what we do want to see is an effort towards transparency, especially with pricing. When asked for pricing we were told ‘it depends‘ but would not commit to a daily or monthly rate and nothing is listed on their site. 

Other than the cost issue we experienced, there’s not much else for us to complain about. We’ll definitely continue looking for bad reviews and update this post. 

Contact Information

Reach out to Kelly Robinson at krobinson@veritascollaborative.com or 919.698.8574 to learn more or take a tour. You can also schedule a tour directly from their site here: Schedule a Tour.

Final Thoughts

Overall, we encourage perspective clients to take a tour and consider the program. It’s best to higher an educational consultant or case manager to go with you. They will ask detailed questions you may not think to ask or just feel way too uncomfortable to ask. This is a decision you should not make alone. 

The Maudsley Method for Eating Disorder Treatment

imagesThe Maudsley Approach (aka Maudsley Family Therapy) is a family therapy specifically designed for the treatment of anorexia nervosa (but now used for many other eating disorders) devised by Christopher Dare and colleagues at the Maudsley Hospital in London.

The Maudsley approach can mostly be construed as an intensive outpatient treatment where parents play an active and positive role in order to: Help restore their child’s weight to normal levels expected given their adolescent’s age and height; hand the control over eating back to the adolescent, and; encourage normal adolescent development through an in-depth discussion of these crucial developmental issues as they pertain to their child.

More ‘traditional’ treatment of AN suggests that the clinician’s efforts should be individually based. Strict adherents to the perspective ofonly individual treatment will insist that the participation of parents, whatever the format, is at best unnecessary, but worse still interference in the recovery process. In fact, many proponents of this approach would consider ‘family problems’ as part of the etiology of the AN. No doubt, this view might contribute to parents feeling themselves to blame for their child’s illness. The Maudsley Approach opposes the notion that families are pathological or should be blamed for the development of AN. On the contrary, the Maudsley Approach considers the parents as a resource and essential in successful treatment for AN.

Phase I: Weight Restoration

The Maudsley Approach proceeds through three clearly defined phases, and is usually conducted within 15-20 treatment sessions over a period of about 12 months. In Phase I, also referred to as the weight restoration phase, the therapist focuses on the dangers of severe malnutrition associated with AN, such as hypothermia, growth hormone changes, cardiac dysfunction, and cognitive and emotional changes to name but a few, assessing the family’s typical interaction pattern and eating habits, and assisting parents in re-feeding their daughter or son. The therapist will make every effort to help the parents in their joint attempt to restore their adolescent’s weight. At the same time, the therapist will endeavor to align the patient with her/his siblings. A family meal is typically conducted during this phase, which serves at least two functions:

It allows the therapist to observe the family’s typical interaction patterns around eating, and it provides the therapist with an opportunity to assist the parents in their endeavor to encourage their adolescent to eat a little more than she was prepared to.

The way in which the parents go about this difficult but delicate task does not differ much in terms of the key principles and steps that a competent inpatient nursing team would follow. That is, an expression of sympathy and understanding by the parents with their adolescent’s predicament of being ambivalent about this debilitating eating disorder, while at the same time being verbally persistent in their expectation that starvation is not an option. Most of this first phase of treatment is taken up by coaching the parents toward success in the weight restoration of their offspring, expressing support and empathy toward the adolescent given her dire predicament of entanglement with the illness, and realigning her with her siblings and peers. Realignment with one’s siblings or peers means helping the adolescent to form stronger and more age appropriate relationships as opposed to being ‘taken up’ into a parental relationship.

Throughout, the role of the therapist is to model to the parents an uncritical stance toward the adolescent – the Maudsley Approach adheres to the tenet that the adolescent is not to blame for the challenging eating disorder behaviors, but rather that these symptoms are mostly outside of the adolescent’s control (externalizing the illness). At no point should this phase of treatment be interpreted as a ‘green light’ for parents to be critical of their child. Quite the contrary, the therapist will work hard to address any parental criticism or hostility toward the adolescent.

Phase II: Returning Control over Eating to the Teen

The patient’s acceptance of parental demand for increased food intake, steady weight gain, as well as a change in the mood of the family (i.e., relief at having taken charge of the eating disorder), all signal the start of Phase II of treatment.

This phase of treatment focuses on encouraging the parents to help their child to take more control over eating once again. The therapist advises the parents to accept that the main task here is the return of their child to physical health, and that this now happens mostly in a way that is in keeping with their child’s age and their parenting style. Although symptoms remain central in the discussions between the therapist and the family, weight gain with minimum tension is encouraged. In addition, all other general family relationship issues or difficulties in terms of day-to-day adolescent or parenting concerns that the family has had to postpone can now be brought forward for review. This, however, occurs only in relationship to the effect these issues have on the parents in their task of assuring steady weight gain. For example, the patient may want to go out with her friends to have dinner and a movie. However, while the parents are still unsure whether their child would eat entirely on her own accord, she might be required to have dinner with her parents and then be allowed to join friends for a movie.

Phase III: Establishing Healthy Teen Identity

Phase III is initiated when the adolescent is able to maintain weight above 95% of ideal weight on her/his own and self-starvation has abated.

Treatment focus starts to shift to the impact AN has had on the individual establishing a healthy adolescent identity. This entails a review of central issues of adolescence and includes supporting increased personal autonomy for the adolescent, the development of appropriate parental boundaries, as well as the need for the parents to reorganize their life together after their children’s prospective departure.

Maudsley Approach Sites

In addition to the Maudsley Hospital and other centers in London, this family-based approach to treatment is implemented by programs in the United States, including Columbia University and Mt. Sinai School of Medicine, New York, NY, Duke University, Durham, NC, The University of Chicago, Chicago, IL, Stanford University, Stanford, CA, the University of California at San Diego, CA and the Eating and Weight Disorders Center of Seattle (part of the Evidence Based Treatment Centers of Seattle), Seattle, WA. Dissemination of the Maudsley Approach has also been successful in Canada, e.g., Eastern Ontario Children’s Hospital in Ottawa, North York General Hospital and the Hospital for Sick Children in Toronto, and McMaster University in Hamilton, ON. The adolescent eating disorders program at the Westmead Children’s Hospital in Sydney, and the eating disorders program at the Royal Children’s Hospital in Melbourne, Australia, have well established FBT programs. 

Conclusion

In summary, the Maudsley Approach holds great promise for most teens who have been ill for less than 3 years. This family-based treatment can prevent hospitalization and assist the adolescent in her/his recovery, provided that parents are seen as a resource and that they are allowed to play an active role in treatment. For a program or clinician to effictively offer the Maudsley Approach they should be certified through The Training Institute for Child and Adolescent Eating Disorders. Certification training requires workshop participation and 25 hours of supervised training on 3 cases during three treatment phases.