California insurance regulators on July 18 announced a settlement agreement with Kaiser Permanente to correct issues with the plan’s oversight of and access to behavioral health services.
The agreement follows warnings dating back to 2012 by the California Department of Managed Health Care (DMHC) that Kaiser was violating state law by failing to get patients into appropriate treatment soon enough. As a result, Kaiser in 2013 agreed to pay a $4 million fine — one of the largest ever paid by an insurer in the state.
Under the terms of the agreement, Kaiser will continue to revamp its Behavioral Health Quality Assurance Program to ensure that access problems are quickly identified and addressed.
“The DMHC and Kaiser Permanente have worked diligently over the past two years to craft an agreement designed to ensure the plan’s enrollees receive timely access to behavioral health services,” said DMHC Director Shelley Rouillard in a statement.”
According to the agreement Kaiser will hire additional mental health providers, invest in additional office space and carrying out a mental health awareness campaign.
The agreement comes as Kaiser has leased 60 offices in Santa Rosa for behavioral health. It will be staffed with 10 physicians, according to John Mackey, chief of the psychiatry department at Kaiser in Santa Rosa. A VIP opening ceremony for Mental Health and Wellness, at 2235 Mercury Way, takes place July 27, and the center will officially open July 31.
“We are expanding and improving the facilities where we provide mental health and wellness care. These investments include adding and updating therapy rooms with advanced technology for videoconferencing and consultations, and adjusting signage to address concerns around stigma,” said Patrick Courneya, MD, executive vice president and chief medical officer, Kaiser Foundation Health Plan, Inc. and Kaiser Foundation Hospitals in a statement.
Kaiser has also expanded hours of operation and is offering more mental health and wellness appointments.
Courneya said Kaiser faced issues in trying to beef up its mental health services.
“Recruiting highly qualified therapists, psychiatrists and other mental health clinicians is challenging for all health care systems, including Kaiser Permanente, due to a national shortage of these skilled caregivers. In spite of that challenge, we’ve been able to increase the number of highly qualified, caring mental health providers at Kaiser Permanente in California by more than 50 percent over the past five years.”
From 2012 to 2017, Kaiser hired 850 additional Behavioral Health physicians statewide.
If Kaiser fails to meet terms of the agreement, fines could add up to $1 million, according to the settlement.