Mental health workers frustrated over lack of telehealth coverage for Medicaid clients

Updated: Apr. 2, 2020 at 7:01 PM EDT
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MYRTLE BEACH, S.C. (WMBF) - During this coronavirus epidemic, mental health offices have been forced to change policies, and so have healthcare providers.

While counselors and most insurers have adapted coverage so patients can see their counselors through the phone or a web-based service called telehealth, originally, Medicaid did not.

Bruce Lynch is a licensed professional counselor at the Center for Counseling and Wellness in North Myrtle Beach. He said people covered through Medicaid were forced to go without their mental health services during the start of office closures if they could not be seen in person.

Medicaid changed that ruling over the last weekend of March. Lynch said Medicaid amended its rules, only to decide to cover people who had been pre-existing clients.

According to Lynch, Medicaid will not allow counselors to accept new clients via telehealth during the coronavirus pandemic who are covered by Medicaid.

“You have to be a pre-existing client to receive telehealth services. And obviously that’s a problem during this time as more stressors are added in uncertainty, exacerbating underlying issues. This is a time more people might be reaching out for therapy and counseling services so if you’re not an existing client," Lynch said over a Skype call. “Medicaid recipients are typically an under-served population to begin with. Because of socioeconomic factors they may have extra stressors than other private insured clients. So, that’s just the part that baffles mental health therapists and clients I assume as well. Sometimes the Medicaid recipients are those who need help the most."

In addition to the problem of Medicaid not allowing counselors to accept new clients, some current counselors cannot counsel their clients via telehealth if they’re not a supervisor, according to Medicaid’s mandates.

“They did not approve the provisionally licensed therapists who are under supervision by a licensed professional counselor supervisor to see their clients. So now those folks, those clients, have to make a choice to come in to their office and see their therapist or go without. Obviously because of the social distancing guidelines there’s not really an option in between for right now,” Lynch said.

Lynch added the Center for Counseling and Wellness is open operating face-to-face appointments and telehealth appointments. He explained the office is taking strict social distancing measures to protect its employees and client by keeping clients waiting in their cars until it’s their turn and wiping down surfaces.

Lynch said he’s seeing about half his clients inside his office still, while some counselors, for their safety and family members, have decided to move entirely to telehealth appointments for the time being.

You can read the changed rulebook for Medicaid here.

Lynch said his office is a non-profit. Therefore, they won’t turn someone away who needs help.

Those who need help can reach out to:

Crisis Help Text Line: Text HOME to 741741

Suicide Prevention Hotline: 1-800-273-8255

Center for Counseling and Wellness: 843-663-0770

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