Mental health providers across Connecticut asked Gov. Ned Lamont for help in a Tuesday letter seeking priority vaccination status and a temporary moratorium on insurance audits among other things.
The letter was signed by more than 250 mental health providers from around the state. They are looking to the governor and the legislature to act on five requests to help them continue providing services through the “escalating mental health crisis” of the ongoing pandemic.
Providers want to be among the first to receive the COVID-19 vaccine so they can resume in-person services as soon as possible. They also want state assistance in purchasing PPE.
The other requests involve providers’ interaction with insurance companies. They’re looking for the state to make permanent a temporary measure allowing them to bill in-person rates for telehealth visits and uniformity in deadlines for insurance companies to pay claims. The providers are also asking the governor for temporary relief from insurance audits.
“Most of our practices are full and turning clients away, with limited options for referrals who are currently taking new clients. And unfortunately, the onerous demands made by Medicaid and commercial insurers are unnecessarily hindering our ability to help and treat the community,” they wrote.
Lamont’s office did not immediately return a request for comment.
Emily Stagg, an advanced nurse practitioner at Hop Brook Counseling Center in Southington, was one of the providers to sign the letter. She said the mental health care community was trying to rise to an unprecedented level of need.
“It’s really a global, collective trauma. We’re all going through this at the same time and it’s horrifying. Mental health needs are skyrocketing. Even providers are seeking other providers,” Stagg said Tuesday.
Over the last couple weeks, the governor has often referenced the mental health impact the pandemic has had on Connecticut residents. During a press conference last week, he told mental providers that the state needed them “now more than ever,” according to the Connecticut Post.
In their Tuesday letter, the providers said they were eager to meet the challenge but needed state assistance.
“Honestly, a lot of us were like ‘Look, we’re trying. We’re drowning. We need help,’” Stagg said.
Having clarity regarding when mental health practitioners would be eligible to get vaccinated would be helpful, she said. The providers are confident they fall somewhere in either Phase 1a, which began Monday, or Phase 1b, which is expected to start in mid-January. Many are eager to get vaccinated as soon as possible so they can safely resume in-person visits, she said.
“There are some people who need the face-to-face. Either because they don’t have privacy in their homes or they are not tech-savvy enough to use video. Sometimes there’s just a lack of connection” with telehealth visits, she said.
There is anxiety among many providers who are not connected to larger hospital systems that they will be left behind when it comes to the vaccine, she said.
In addition to the obvious stressors brought on by the pandemic, providers wrote that they are also being forced to devote time and resources to complying with insurance audits. They said that Medicaid has announced its first major audit of medical records in six years. Meanwhile private insurance providers like Anthem Blue Cross and Blue Shield and United Behavioral Health have continued to conduct audits for use of certain treatments, the providers wrote.
They are asking the governor to put a moratorium on the audits until March 15 or whenever the current state of emergency ends.
Stagg called the audits “excessive” and like “salt to the wound.”
“We’ve been trying our hardest for nine months to meet the growing needs of the community and we’ve got them requiring us to stop and focus our time on audits,” she said. “It’s either unfortunate or it’s malicious. It doesn’t feel good.”