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Kathy Marshack News

Shopping for Health Insurance? Make Sure You Have Adequate Mental Health Benefits

Thursday, March 24, 2011


A few years ago I heard a well known Dale Carnegie graduate give a talk on how to attract new business. He used as an example, what attracted him to the family physician who had attended to him, his wife and children for years. The good doctor had given a similar talk at a public event and impressed the man with his expertise, solid reputation, and sincerity. For something as personal and life important as the health care of his family, the man wanted such an individual as this dedicated doctor. And for years his initial decision to choose this physician proved to be a good one.

Yet in spite of the importance of choosing the right health care professional, this Carnegie graduate dropped the doctor like a hot potato when managed care rolled into town. Because his company chose a managed care plan that would not allow the doctor to join the panel, the dedicated patient who had so carefully chosen and developed a meaningful relationship with his health care provider, decided to follow the impersonal dictates of the managed care plan.

Closer to my own area of practice, psychology, is another story that is even more disconcerting. A young teenage girl had been treated for depression by a psychologist. In actuality she was not seriously depressed but rather angry at her boyfriend for being somewhat shallow. The girl’s parents called the managed care company and were referred to the psychologist. After a few short sessions with the psychologist, the girl felt she had more control of the situation and would not allow the boyfriend’s manipulation to continue. Two weeks after terminating psychotherapy, the girl and her father had a fight that erupted into yelling and screaming between the two of them. The father in frustration called his managed care plan (an 800 number in southern California) and told them his daughter was suicidal. Without any psychiatric evaluation and without contacting the daughter’s psychotherapist, the clerk at the other end of the 800 number advised the father to take the girl to a psychiatric hospital. Although the girl was not suicidal and didn’t need hospitalization, she did learn to fear her father and to behave lest she be hospitalized again. Not a healthy outcome.

The mistakes made by the Carnegie graduate and the father of the teenager are not uncommon. There is a mystique about managed care. People have come to believe that the 800 number is like a parent, able to solve all of their woes. They believe that they will get the same personal service they received for years by a doctor who knows them. They are puzzled when the service they do receive is not sufficient to resolve the problem. Often they assume that there is nothing more that can be done, since their managed care company has not authorized additional services. It’s as if the managed care company has assumed the paternalistic mystique that the family doctor once held. But now the mystique has no concern about the individual, only cutting medical costs.

So when you are shopping around for a health plan, I hope you consider just what you are buying when it comes to mental health benefits. Do you have ample psychotherapy benefits; at least 26 to 52 visits per year? Do you have the right to choose the most experienced and competent psychologist? Is there true confidentiality guaranteed? Is the treatment plan dictated by actuarial tables or by the unique needs of the situation and the employee? Is the payment to the therapist worth the time of a competent professional, or are you forced to seek out an untrained, inexperienced person who will charge rock bottom prices? Ultimately you are responsible for your own health so make sure that you’re your own health advocate.


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