State: Kaiser wrongly denies members access to mental healthcare

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Kaiser Permanente has been wrongly denying its members appropriate access to mental healthcare, including subjecting them to long periods between appointments and providing inaccurate information about coverage, according to a state finding.

A California Department of Managed Health Care report, which was released Monday, says Kaiser HMO members have had to wait longer than 14 days, as required by state law, to see mental health providers. Also, errors within the insurer's tracking system caused it to underreport its members' wait times, reported the Orange County Register.

DMHC also found that Kaiser inaccurately described mental health services to its patients, effectively discouraging them from seeking covered mental treatment. For example, Kaiser distributed information sheets that said it offers "brief, problem solution-focused individual counseling" and that "research shows many people improve in a single visit," the Sacramento Bee reported.

"The department feels these findings are really serious," Shelley Rouillard, DMHC's chief deputy director, told the San Francisco Chronicle. "Because of that, we are doing the immediate enforcement referral, which is unusual." 

DMHC's enforcement division will decide upon any necessary disciplinary action against Kaiser that could range from financial penalties to cease and desist orders to corrective actions, she added.

In response to the report, Kaiser said it takes the findings "seriously," adding that it agrees with DMHC that it must reduce wait times and improve monitoring of wait times for these appointments. The insurer also updated its educational materials so it provides accurate information about mental health to patients, noted the Register.

To learn more:
- here's the report
- read the San Francisco Chronicle article
- see the Orange County Register article
- check out the Sacramento Bee article

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