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WV Medicaid to Provide More Behavioral Healthcare

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PHOTO: The West Virginia Center on Budget and Policy predicts the state's change in Medicaid billing rules about who can provide behavioral-health services should mean more people get the help they need. Photo credit: George Hodan.
PHOTO: The West Virginia Center on Budget and Policy predicts the state's change in Medicaid billing rules about who can provide behavioral-health services should mean more people get the help they need. Photo credit: George Hodan.
 By Dan HeymanContact
December 15, 2014

CHARLESTON, W.Va. - Along with expanding Medicaid to the working poor, West Virginia will change billing rules to provide more behavioral health services though the program.

The Department of Health and Human Resources is preparing to accept Medicaid billing from independent, licensed, masters-level clinical social workers. The West Virginia Center on Budget and Policy studied the availability of these services, and health-policy analyst Erin Snyder said the change should help ease a problem.

"There's a limited number of psychiatrists and psychologists as it is, and most areas of the state are considered mental-health professional shortage areas," she said. "With Medicaid expansion, there's an additional 150,000 individuals who will need access to health care."

According to the DHHR, the details are still being worked out but the change should be in effect for the next fiscal year, which begins July 1, and should result in a very limited increase in costs for the program. Providers point out that behavioral health care saves money in the long run by reducing a lot of other costs.

Snyder said it should be a boost for the state's physical health and economy.

"Having effective behavioral-health treatment will increase productivity, decrease the burden on the criminal justice system and decrease health costs," she said. "It's a real benefit to the state."

Snyder said the billing rules had been a barrier to some people getting the care they need, adding that most neighboring states already have removed similar barriers. In many cases in West Virginia, Snyder said, independent providers have had to have a psychologist or psychiatrist review their treatment notes, which she calls an unnecessary step.

"In reality," she said, "when their supervisors review these notes, it's just cursory, in order to bill Medicaid."

Medicaid covers treatment for behavioral-health issues such as depression and substance abuse, both of which are serious problems in the state. By expanding Medicaid to cover families with incomes up to one-and-one-third of the federal poverty level, behavioral health professionals predict a lot more West Virginians should gain access to the help they need.

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