Legislature(1997 - 1998)

02/19/1998 09:11 AM STA

Audio Topic
* first hearing in first committee of referral
+ teleconferenced
= bill was previously heard/scheduled
SB 122 - INS.COVERAGE:MARRIAGE & FAMILY THERAPIST                              
Number 0142                                                                    
CHAIR JAMES announced the committee would hear SB 122, "An Act                 
relating to unfair discrimination under a group health insurance               
policy for services provided by marital and family therapists; and             
providing for an effective date."  She informed the committee                  
members that the bill was introduced by the Senate Labor and                   
Commerce Committee by request of the Alaska Association for                    
Marriage and Family Therapy (AAMFT).  She asked Ms. Lindell of the             
association to present the bill.                                               
Number 0196                                                                    
REPRESENTATIVE FRED DYSON noted for the record that he has a                   
conflict of interest as his wife is a licensed marriage and family             
counselor and would significantly benefit if the legislation                   
becomes law.                                                                   
CHAIR JAMES asked if there was an objection to Representative Dyson            
having a conflict.  She noted he would be expected to vote.                    
Number 0222                                                                    
REPRESENTATIVE IVAN IVAN said there are no objections.                         
Number 0258                                                                    
BEVERLY LINDELL, Past President, Current Legislative Chair, Alaska             
Association for Marriage and Family Therapy, came before the                   
committee.  Ms. Lindell explained that the bill adds licensed                  
marriage and family therapists to the list of providers against                
whom insurers cannot discriminate.  She stated they are one of the             
identified five core mental health providers as identified by the              
National Institute of Mental Health.  The other groups, social                 
workers, psychologists, psychiatric (indisc.) and psychiatrists are            
already covered under this bill.  Ms. Lindell said it is a fairness            
issue for her group because they would like to be at the table with            
their peers in this matter.  They are a licensed group.  She stated            
that is also important for consumers in that it gives them a                   
greater access to services.  A recent national survey showed that              
consumers more often refer to marriage and family therapists when              
given the choice.  Ms. Lindell said there are other people who wish            
to testify as to the importance of their services.                             
Number 0400                                                                    
REPRESENTATIVE IVAN asked how many people were involved in this                
MS. LINDELL explained that the AAMFT has approximately 80 members.             
In addition, there are about 150 licensed marriage and family                  
therapists in the state.                                                       
Number 0443                                                                    
MICHAEL WEINGARTEN, Board Member, Alaska Association for Marriage              
and Family Therapy, testified via teleconference from Anchorage.               
He informed the committee members that he is a licensed marriage               
and family therapist.  He said he has lived in Alaska for 20 years             
and has been working in the mental health field for the past 23                
years.  He said marriage and family therapists treat a variety of              
difficult problems and cases.  Mr. Weingarten stated that his case             
load includes cases of child abuse, school and work problems,                  
sexual abuse, domestic violence, drug and alcohol abuse,                       
delinquency, divorce and major depression.  He said he would like              
to emphasize that the bill does not require insurers to add mental             
health coverage.  He pointed out that the bill supports the                    
public's free choice of licensed qualified providers.  Marriage and            
family therapists are very cost effective.  They can treat several             
members of a family simultaneously.  They are located throughout               
the state of Alaska.  They do preventative work and have high                  
professional standards.  Mr. Weingarten referred to the bill and               
stated that they are not requiring anybody to pay any more for                 
coverage and aren't requiring anybody to cover any new service,                
condition or procedure that they're not already covering.  He                  
stated that the bill doesn't create an incentive for clients to                
spend more and it doesn't create a reason for insurance companies              
to spend more.  The public will have greater access to a variety of            
professional licensed mental health providers.  This means access              
to the provider of your choice.  There would be more choices for               
the consumer without costing them more money and it means there                
will be more competition amongst providers in the marketplace.  Mr.            
Weingarten said the people would have greater access to a variety              
of professional licensed mental health providers.  Access to                   
quality mental health care is good public policy, it decreases                 
lateness and absenteeism on the job, it decreases unnecessary                  
physical health care, it decreases employee disability costs, it               
decreases public financial assistance rates, it decreases workers'             
compensation claims and it increases job-related productivity.  He             
encouraged the committee to support the legislation.                           
Number 0655                                                                    
VIVIAN FINDLAY, Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist, testified              
from the Mat-Su Legislative Information Office (LIO).  She said she            
has been in the mental health field for 22 years and in Alaska for             
almost 15 years.  She said she has had her own practice for about              
11 years.  Ms. Findlay stated that she is very much in support of              
the legislation for the reasons that Ms. Lindell and Mr. Weingarten            
have mentioned.  She said, "I just wanted to add that we along with            
the other mental health professionals who are already licensed and             
are already included as providers for insurance purposes do very               
similar kinds of work, but we have a slightly different orientation            
of marriage and family therapists.  And I do agree that there seems            
to be no reason that we should be excluded because we do provide               
excellent services.  Thank you."                                               
Number 0720                                                                    
ELAINE WILLIAMS, Public Member, Board of Marital and Family                    
Therapy, Division of Occupational Licensing, Department of Commerce            
and Economic Development, came before the committee to testify in              
support of SB 122.  She said that as a public member, she would                
like to be able to choose who she would see if she needed  some                
sort of therapy.  This legislation offers that opportunity with                
whatever insurance carrier she has.                                            
CHAIR JAMES noted there is a proposed State Affairs committee                  
substitute, Version H, dated 2/17/98.                                          
Number 0775                                                                    
REPRESENTATIVE KIM ELTON made a motion to adopt the proposed                   
committee substitute, Version H, before the committee.  There being            
no objection, that version was before the committee.                           
Number 0795                                                                    
PAM WAATS, President, American Counseling Association of Alaska;               
and a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist, came before the                  
committee to testify.  She said as a state of Alaska licensed                  
behavioral health care provider, marriage and family therapists                
provide therapeutic services within the scope of their license and             
their expertise.  As such, it would not only be discriminatory to              
this group of mental health service providers for third party                  
payers to refuse payment for professional services, but it also                
limits the choice of consumers to select qualified professionals               
who would best meet their needs.  She said she would strongly                  
encourage the committee to support parity for the Alaska marriage              
and family therapists.                                                         
Number 0857                                                                    
DIXIE HOOD, Marriage and Family Therapist, came before the                     
committee to testify.  She informed the committee that she has been            
in Alaska for 23 years and has been in private practice as a                   
marriage and family therapist for the last 12 years.  She said she             
would discuss how the present situation has impacted her work in               
negative ways as a self-employed person.  She said until licensure             
was attained for marriage and family therapists, it was very                   
difficult to get insurance reimbursement without having supervision            
by a medical doctor documented.  When licensure occurred, it helped            
things as AETNA no longer had any problem with reimbursement.  She             
informed the committee that there are a number of insurance                    
companies that will not reimburse in Alaska even though they do in             
California and other states.  They won't in Alaska because they can            
get away with it.  Ms. Hood told the committee that one insurance              
company that has impacted her is Blue Cross.  In Juneau, all of the            
city employees have Blue Cross insurance coverage.  She said she is            
cut out of providing services to the city employees unless people              
are willing to self-pay and give up the possibility of                         
compensation.  Ms. Hood stated that last year she had a young women            
from Ketchikan, who is in her early 20s who had been severely                  
injured in an accident.  That woman's attorney had contacted her               
about providing services.  Ms. Hood stated that she did provide                
services to the woman as she was extremely depressed and will be               
disabled for the rest of her life.  Ms. Hood said she did provide              
services and the young woman was able to pay her out of a                      
settlement from the accident, but she had expected to be reimbursed            
by Blue Cross.  Ms. Hood said she and the young woman received a               
document back from Blue Cross that said, "Services by this provider            
are not covered."  The amount was for $1,467.  She urged the                   
committee to pass the legislation.                                             
Number 1064                                                                    
REPRESENTATIVE MARK HODGINS made a motion to move HCSSB 122(STA)               
from committee with individual recommendations and with the                    
attached fiscal note.  There being no objection, HCSSB 122(STA)                
moved out of the State Affairs Standing Committee.                             

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