A discussion with my coworkers recently reminded me of the wide variability in the size and nature of the organizations that utilize our software products. Behavioral Health organizations range from solo, part-time psychologists, psychiatrists, social workers and professional counselors in private practice to large community-based organizations that provide inpatient, outpatient, intensive outpatient, and home-based care to those requiring mental health and substance abuse treatment.
As a result of this wide variability, the individuals with whom we deal in our provision of technical support services range from highly-trained medical and mental health billing/coding specialists and practice business managers to the teenage child or neighbor of the doctor who happened to be in need of a summer job. We are often amazed by the differences…by how much some billing specialists know and how little information others have.
One of the biggest surprises for me is how often highly trained mental health professionals are willing to entrust their businesses to individuals who have no training to do such a job. We are sometimes asked why our software does not do “x” for them. We explain that the software is a tool to be used by someone who knows mental health/medical billing to accomplish the needed tasks. It will not magically do billing for someone who has no idea how to do that job.
My niece works in a medical practice and is studying for the American Health Information Management Association’s (AHIMA) Certified Coding Specialist – Physician Based exam. I went to AHIMA’s site to see what the content is for this certification and was amazed at the breadth of the knowledge required to achieve the certification. The AAPC is a different organization. . . of professional coders. . . that also offers training, certification, support and networking. Both of these are aimed at individuals who work in medical coding and billing.
Some people who work in behavioral health assume that the billing job must be much simpler for mental health because it contains a much narrower range of services than a general medical practice. Just ask any experienced behavioral health billing specialist, and you will find out that it is not simple at all. Just because the range of services provided in behavioral health is much smaller does not mean that the person doing the billing requires less knowledge about billing and collections and dealing with insurance carriers.
Mental health services were “managed” by insurance carriers much earlier than most other specialties. As a result, there are rules and requirements for obtaining authorization for treatment that have a 30 year history. While “parity” was legislated in 2008 and the final rule for implementation promulgated in 2010, implementation has been slow and many consumers are not even aware that their plan might cover mental health services at the same rate they cover general medical care.
To expect someone who has never worked in a health care setting and has not previously done medical or mental health billing to have any idea about parity or treatment authorizations or copays or coordination of benefits or take-backs is just not reasonable. Medical billing is complicated and behavioral health billing has its own subtleties and complexities that are different.
So what is an employer to do? Here are some quick suggestions:
- Recognize that the person who is doing your billing is running a crucial part of your business. You should expect them to be a business professional.
- Do NOT expect someone who earns minimum wage to know how to do behavioral health billing. If you find a qualified biller who is willing to work for such a wage, they are selling themselves short.
- If your staff is struggling with how to bill, get them information. The Center for Medicare Services (CMS) is an outstanding resource. If a claim will pass Medicare muster, it will also pass the requirements of most other insurers.
- Invest in training for your staff. Having your staff thoroughly learn the software product you are using will earn money for your organization.
This is an arena in which I am sure many of you have experience and opinions. Please share your comments below. If you have additional recommendations for employers, please let us know.