Legislature(1997 - 1998)
02/19/1998 09:11 AM STA
* first hearing in first committee of referral
= bill was previously heard/scheduled
= 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 effort. 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.