Why not use your health insurance for counseling? Isn’t that what it is for?
But using health insurance for mental health services is a little different than other medical issues. Sometimes mental health issues are not covered by your health insurance. Once you use your health insurance for mental health, you will have a mental health diagnosis on file – a mental health disorder/mental health illness must be on the insurance claim in order for insurance to pay for treatment. This will be in your permanent medical record.
Of course you want to consider using your health insurance for counseling, but there are some good reasons for you to consider why you may not want to use your insurance for counseling services.
Why doesn’t my counselor accept my health insurance?
Many counselors choose not to accept health insurance for very good reasons. They want to focus 100% of their time in treating you. If they accept health insurance, there is a lot of extra work involved in accepting insurance, in addition to agreeing to work for a discounted fee. The counselor may spend hours on the phone getting benefit information, authorizations, or following up on claims payments. The counselor has to wait a month for payment from the insurance company. The counselor has to file progress reports with the insurance company. The counselor is required to submit treatment reports and other details about your medical history with the insurance company.
It’s not that counselors don’t like insurance companies, or don’t want you to use your insurance (we have health insurance too!), but many counselors prefer to focus 100% of their time and energy in helping clients, rather than doing paperwork for insurance companies.
But this isn’t the only reason counselors may not be in network with your health insurance company.
The other reasons are more compelling, and you need to consider them BEFORE you decide to use your health insurance.
Many counselors prefer not to work in network with health insurance companies so that they can better protect your confidentiality. Any information (claims, reports, or treatment plans) filed with health insurance leaves the protection of their office and their locked files and your personal, private, emotional information is outside of your counselor’s office. In order for any insurance company to reimburse or pay for counseling (both in network and out of network), you must be considered “ill”. You must be diagnosed with a mental health illness or disorder. If you are not ill enough to warrant a diagnosis, then insurance will not pay for counseling services. If you do qualify for a mental health diagnosis, your illness will be listed in your permanent medical record. Many counselors don’t like this “medical model” of declaring someone ill, so they choose not to accept insurance because they want to focus on their client’s strengths, and not label them as mentally ill.
Do you want to be considered mentally ill? If you have a mental health diagnosis already, because you have been to counseling or psychiatric appointments in the past, find out what your diagnosis on file is. If you already have a mental health diagnosis, this may not be a concern to you, but if not, you may not want this in your medical record.
Counselors also do not like releasing information to others to protect your confidentiality. Once a claim is submitted to the insurance company, who knows how many people take a look at it and rubber stamp it while it travels through the system? If insurance pays for any counseling sessions (in network or out of network), then the insurance company has the right to audit your complete file. They can request copies of counseling notes, assessments, and other personal emotional information to determine if you really are “sick enough” to warrant their payment. They can deny services to you if they think you aren’t sick enough or if they think your counseling is not “medically necessary”.
Additionally, there are many counseling issues that are not even covered by insurance at all. Stress management and anger management are usually not covered. Marriage counseling is usually not covered. Certain medical conditions/mental health conditions may be excluded (such as attention deficit disorder or adjustment disorder). Even if your illness or disorder is covered by your insurance plan, they may limit the number of visits they will cover (sometimes only 20 per year), and they will set a maximum amount they will pay per calendar year or in your lifetime.
Additionally, counselors prefer not to have someone in the insurance company telling them how to treat their clients. Insurance companies can decide what type of counseling is covered, what diagnoses are allowed, and how many times the client needs to come before they are cured. Many counselors prefer to work directly with clients to serve their needs, without interference from an insurance company.
Using your health insurance for counseling services can also affect your security clearance, life insurance rate, employment, or future health insurance coverage.
For the above reasons, I recommend that you be informed about using health insurance for counseling. You may choose to file anyway, but be an informed consumer.
Be an informed consumer.
Know your mental health diagnosis.
Talk to your counselor about the diagnosis.
Ask your counselor about your treatment reports.
Decide if you have, or want to have, a psychiatric illness.
If you have clinical, severe depression, anxiety, or other issues, then you probably already have a diagnosis.
But if you are stressed, having relationship problems, or trying to figure out your purpose in life, your symptoms may be minor, and you may not want to have a mental health diagnosis in your records.
Once an insurance claim is submitted to your health insurance company, your diagnosis becomes part of your permanent medical record, and can affect future life insurance, preexisting conditions, or the cost of private health insurance.
Jama Thurman is a Licensed Professional Counselor in Manassas, VA. She helps teens and adults who are stressed and anxious find peace and purpose.