The community meeting about mental health services Wednesday evening was both encouraging and discouraging.
More than 100 people showed up to talk about finding solutions to the chronic lack of services for people with mental health problems in Fairbanks. That was the encouraging part.
The discouraging part was the common diagnosis of the problem: Not enough funding is available from public agency sources to compensate for the bureaucracy involved in treating people under their rules.
Mental health counselors said they won’t take clients whose bills would be paid by Medicaid and Medicare, because doing so brings on too much paperwork.
Some types of paperwork can be handled by hiring more administrative staff. If the reimbursement rate is high enough, it will cover the cost of the staff members. However, rates appear to be inadequate to cover the bureaucracy.
In addition, it’s not just administrative staff that are needed. The actual care providers apparently also have a lot of paperwork, and their time is more limited and expensive.
“It’s just a burden I won’t put on my clinicians,” said Gunnar Ebbesson, clinical director for Turning Point Counseling Services. So the company doesn’t accept clients who pay with Medicaid and Medicare.
The financial issues also were at the root of the Fairbanks Community Behavioral Health Center’s collapse a few months ago. While that institution has been resurrected partially as the Fairbanks Community Mental Health Services, the new management is focused on staying in the black, as it should.
Asking for higher reimbursement rates from Medicaid and Medicare is not likely to be a popular idea in the face of state and federal deficit spending. The more realistic path might be for caregivers and agencies to identify procedural and reporting changes that reduce the expense of seeing a patient.
It’s good to see all the focus on the issue. Now it’s time for some solutions.
— Fairbanks Daily News-Miner,