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Tuesday, July 22, 2014

My one and only political post.

I think that, if you read through every one of my blog posts, you would be remiss to find much written on politics.
Its not because I don't value them or have political opinions. But for the most part, they are not on my motherhood or professional agenda in regards to writing; and to be honest, I know that I am probably not thick-skinned enough to handle the criticism and varied opinions on hot button issues that are usually embodied in politics.

However today that will change.

Mainly  because there is an issue near and dear to my heart, and to my profession and professional experience that I want to talk about.

And unless you are over the age of 60, or are a caretaker for someone over that age, this is probably not something you have considered.

But let me tell you a fact.
Medicare (the primary insurance provider for seniors) does NOT cover/pay for mental health counseling provided by Licensed Professional Counselors.

Medicare DOES cover counseling services provided by Social Workers and Psychologists. But not Professional Counselors (whose entire extensive masters or doctoral level education is solely focused on mental health counseling services).

However every single  other private insurance carrier offers coverage for mental health services through professional counselors  (BCBS, Aetna, Humana, Tricare, Medicaid, etc)

It is not a secret, I am a Licensed Clinical Professional Counselor in the State of Illinois and Wisconsin. So I have a vested interest in being included in providing professional mental health care services to this population that is growing exponentially. Much faster than any professional program can educate practitioners.

It is also incredibly frustrating that I am limited in what I am able to do. Much of my professional experience has been with this population. From working with elder abuse, to supervising senior services programs in Lake County, to running support groups and providing individual counseling to residents of nursing homes and working with (and being at one point myself) a caregiver. With this experience, I have received referrals to my private practice for seniors on Medicare with a variety of mental health issues including grief, depression, co-dependency, trauma/abuse, adjustment issues, etc. Each of whom I have to make arrangements to either   1. see pro bono (for free),  2. work out a private pay rate- which is incredibly high for someone on a fixed income, or   3. refer elsewhere. And I think each of these people deserve their services and I will do whatever it takes to make sure they receive it, be it from myself or someone else as qualified.

Now you might ask, how I am able to see seniors in nursing homes? Long story short, I do that as a contractor for a group practice. I am "supervised" by a Licensed Psychologist who signs off on everything I do and so he bills Medicare. Its completely legit and an acknowledged practice, like how other practices (like doctors) can still bill for utilizing interns or nurses services or those without their full licensing credentials.

I just cannot not do it on my own. Even though the services are identical. And it limits the number of highly qualified mental health practitioners who can serve this population.

This article gives a little bit more info about it:
article from the Illinois Counseling association about this issue

So why do seniors need Mental health services? Imagine yourself when you are 65+. How many people around you, friends and family have passed away? grief/loneliness. Its harder to get out/leave your house. You've most likely retired from whatever your life's work has been. You are most likely physically able to do less than you were before. Most are on a new very tight fixed income. Health concerns increase including new meds, eyesight, arthritis, breathing, etc. Its a time when you question your purpose and life contribution. And even more so, imagine for yourself having to move into a nursing home (if you haven't visited one recently, I encourage you to do so. Its a sobering experience). Get the picture. Its depressing. Anxiety producing. Lonely. And Seniors have the highest rate of suicide among any age group by far.

So here's the deal.

Legislation has been now introduced to the house of Representatives in Washington to make one simple change. That is to include Marriage and Family therapists and Licensed Professional Counselors to the list of accepted mental health providers for Medicare. Its called HR 3662 The Mental Health Access Improvement Act of 2013.

If you think that this is important, which I do, here is what you can do. Its really quite easy.

Can you please call or e-mail your local Congressional representative to Washington. Just let them know that you are in support of H.R. 3662, The Mental Health Access Improvement Act of 2013 and to ask for their support of it. To allow for greater access to Mental Health Services for seniors, who need it. Your letter/voice mail does not need to be elaborate. Just state your support.

Here is where you can look up your Rep by zip code (use the "find officials" box). Mine is Randy Hultgren (if you live near me). Each rep should have their own website with a "contact" or "email" section/tab.

The other simple thing is to encourage others to do this as well. Pass this on.

Thank you for bearing with me on this.
But it is rather important to me.


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