Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Minnesota is under fire from providers for new reimbursement rates that caregivers say will discourage necessary, extended psychotherapy sessions.
In a letter to providers, the insurer stated the new rates are necessary to manage what it called "unusually high claims trends" for behavioral health services.
The company did not make the rates available to MPR News.
"We have received complaints about Blue Cross coverage and discussed the concerns that patient groups and mental health providers about what Blue Cross is doing," Minnesota Department of Commerce Commissioner Mike Rothman said.
The commerce department is looking into whether the insurer is complying with mental health parity laws that prohibit providing skimpier benefits for mental health than for surgical and other medical services.
Blue Cross declined an interview request for this story but issued a statement that it "looked forward to advancing shared goals" with mental health providers.
Minnesota mental health providers on Thursday plan to discuss growing concerns about insurance company payments.
In its letter, Blue Cross cited a need to reduce the cost of extended psychotherapy sessions. The insurer also stated that it's seeking reimbursement from some providers that were mistakenly overpaid during a ten-month period ending in June.
Shauna Reitmeier, CEO of the Northwestern Mental Health Center in Crookston, said that as a community health center, her facility cannot turn away patients.
Reitmeier, who's also president of the Minnesota Association of Community Mental Health Programs, said community health centers will have to be more creative in offering talk-therapy services. She's also worried other providers may start turning away patients.
"You're risking higher levels of care. You're risking hospitalizations. You're risking incarcerations and we're increasing the cost of care for other systems if we can't get them in for a 60-minute out-patient psychotherapy session," Reitmeier said.
Sue Abderholden, executive director of the National Alliance on Mental Illness Minnesota, warned cutting reimbursement will exacerbate problems of access to care.
"We already have a mental health workforce shortage in Minnesota," Abderholden said. "Nearly every county is deemed a workforce shortage area by the federal government and providers have a difficult time finding [staff], especially psychologists [and] clinical therapists."