Reach Out PA: Wolf Administration Seeks Input from Providers on Barriers to Mental Health and Substance Use Disorder Treatment February 07, 2020 SHARE Email Facebook Twitter Press Release, Public Health Governor Tom Wolf announced today that the Insurance Department, in partnership with multiple state agencies, released a survey asking health care providers for input on their experiences with barriers to mental health and substance use disorder treatment.Under the governor’s Reach Out PA: Your Mental Health Matters initiative, the Wolf Administration is undertaking a long-term, statewide campaign that seeks to educate and empower Pennsylvania providers and consumers about consumer rights under state and federal parity laws.“The results from this survey will allow us to better inform and collaborate with providers, advocates and personnel on the front lines,” said Gov. Wolf. “Their experiences will help us enhance resources, develop more tools and create learning opportunities that will help serve the providers’ needs, which will ultimately help those in need of mental wellness services.”For more than a decade, state and federal laws have required that treatment and services provided for mental health and substance use disorders must not have limitations that are stricter than those applied to medical/surgical treatments. Recent market conduct examinations of Pennsylvania insurers, however, have indicated that there are noncompliant barriers that are limiting consumers’ ability to access the treatment they need for mental health and substance use disorders.“While complicated in its wording, both state and federal law are very clear that inequitable barriers to mental health and substance use disorder treatment will not be permitted,” said Insurance Commissioner Jessica Altman. “Through our market conduct examinations, we have found that many insurers have placed limitations on treatment that are stricter than state and federal parity requirements allow.”The Wolf Administration is looking for feedback from mental health and substance use disorder providers, as well as other providers who have heard from patients that they have run into barriers when seeking treatment. The survey, developed by a working group of staff from the Insurance Department, and departments of Health (DOH), Human Services (DHS), Drug and Alcohol Programs (DDAP), State, Aging, the Office of the Attorney General and the Governor’s Office, will be sent to providers across the commonwealth.The survey requests specific instances regarding complaints providers have heard from their patients about barriers to access. The survey also includes questions about providers’ experiences with barriers to treatment and problems with reimbursement for mental health and substance use disorder services. The aggregate data will be used to identify and address areas of concern by creating more accessible resources, included what is needed to help providers and other stakeholders learn more about parity.“We often hear of struggles when providers seek authorization from insurers for substance use disorder treatment, particularly opioid use disorder treatment,” said DDAP Secretary Jennifer Smith. “We hope to get a better understanding of trends and how best to address them.”“Providers typically have trusted relationships with their older adult patients that can be used to overcome stigma to seeking services and to help them gain access to mental health and substance abuse disorder treatments,” said Department of Aging Secretary Robert Torres. “We want all providers to have a knowledge base that empowers them to point their patients in the right direction.”“The process for determining whether parity protections are being followed is incredibly detailed and requires data that is best identified by mental health and substance use disorder providers,” said DOH Secretary Rachel Levine. “Using the insights we gain from this survey, we will be able to give our providers better tools to empower their patients and clients.”“Ensuring that mental health services are accessible to all Pennsylvanians is a critical step as we work to break down stigma and other barriers that keep people away from treatment,” said DHS Secretary Teresa Miller. “We need people to know that when they are ready to seek help, they will be met with support, not obstacles. This survey will help identify areas to improvement to ensure that people can access the help they need.”The survey specific to providers will be sent directly to the e-mail addresses provided to the Department of State through the licensing process. The Insurance Department will be accepting survey responses through March 4, 2020. For more information about the survey, individuals can e-mail RA-IN-Parity-PID@pa.gov.Since its introduction at the beginning of the year, Reach Out PA efforts have included a new consumer feedback form launched on January 23, and publication of a proposed regulation to enhance mental health parity reporting requirements for commercial health insurers. In just 10 days, more than 1,000 Pennsylvanians have completed the online form, offering input and suggestions, many of which detail challenges to accessing mental health services and pointing to potential parity violations.Resources are available on agency websites, including information on substance use disorder and mental health coverage. More information and videos on parity can be found on insurance.pa.gov. These resources will be updated and expanded based on responses to the survey.
“Honestly, some of my most fond memories of my senior year are going to be sitting in my sorority in my room, writing a curriculum for other students,” Burger said. “The fact that [creating change with the nonprofit] is even possible for me is mind-boggling. It just proves that if you want to do something, do it.” “A big part of this is making sure that the information we’re providing is accessible to the people that we are trying to reach,” Burger said. “You can provide people with resources but if they don’t understand what you’re saying, you’re not really impacting them or helping them at all. Ultimately, we want this to be a very accessible and youth-driven curriculum. It was through the fellowship that Burger was able to attend the Presidential Fellows Conference in Washington D.C. in October with fellow TICO founders, Uma Kalkar, Hannah Zimmerman and Maya Ungar, all college students from different universities. Together, the four launched the nonprofit to address the gap of civic engagement in formal education by providing a toolkit for students of all ages with suggestions on how to engage with communities through academic intervention and programs that bring activism into the classroom. After starting Register, an organization aimed at helping young women at USC register to vote prior to the 2018 midterm elections, senior Ellie Burger knew she wanted to dive deeper into the world of civic organizing. As the first communication major and woman from USC to be awarded the Presidential Fellowship from the Center for the Study of the Presidency and Congress, which provides college students the opportunity to learn about presidential leadership and governance, Burger has become an essential contributor to the start of nonprofit The Institute for Civic Organizing, where she is now working to bring civic organizing skills to students in the classroom. The Organizing Civics curriculum consists of 225 individual lesson plans for teachers to integrate into their classrooms. It aims to cover the holistic experience of civic organizing — from describing successful examples in history, such as the civil rights suffragette movements, to including theories on apathy and reluctance to join a civic cause. The curriculum also provides specific technical instructions on shifting an idea into legitimate action by mobilizing resources, contacting donors and volunteers and addressing potential legal matters. One of TICO’s programs, Organizing Civics, is the first standardized curriculum on social and civic organizing adjusted for primary, secondary and post-secondary schooling for students around the world. For this program, Burger works to create a universal image to represent TICO and effectively convey TICO’s message to potential education nonprofit partners. “She’s just infectiously enthusiastic and positive, and she can make two-hour group calls feel like they’re 15 minutes long,” Zimmerman said. “She sees the best in everyone, and it can be really easy with someone who’s a little bit more reserved, like I am, to work with her because she manages to bring out the extrovert in you and she really is a team player.” “Even in uncertain times, there’s a foundation of people who genuinely want to make the world a better place,” Burger said. “And I think that’s something that excites me and kind of makes me feel a little more confident in where we’re going as a country.” “I genuinely think that it’s important for people who see an issue in the world around them to do what is in their power to fix that,” Burger said. “I think that’s a part of who I am and how I’ve been raised, but I think it’s also a part of being a Trojan and part of the USC identity.” “It’s not that hard to make change,” Burger said. “It’s hard to start yourself on that process to make it. Once you set your mind to it, it’s pretty easy, and people are pretty willing to change. It’s just that a lot of people aren’t there to motivate them.” Burger serves as the director of communications for the organization and is in charge of maintaining press relations, developing brand identity and implementing corporate communication strategies within TICO. She is also responsible for maintaining TICO’s image as an engaging, youth-driven, well-sourced and, most importantly, a revolutionary organization, Burger said. Although she knows not every student has the intent of starting the next major social movement, Burger said she believes it’s essential for today’s youth to know they can create change within their communities and learn about the skills and resources to do so. Kalkar, a senior at the University of Toronto, said the goal is to help students become global citizens by focusing the curriculum’s examples and topics on the United Nations’ 17 Sustainable Development Goals, including zero hunger, climate action and reduced inequality. Zimmerman, a junior at Stanford University, said having Burger on the TICO team since the beginning has made the entire experience more enjoyable and efficient since she knows how to take advantage of her own skills and helps to accentuate the skills of others. Although tackling some of these goals presented by the UN may feel ambitious for the average student, Burger said creating impactful change is not as daunting as it seems. “There isn’t any curriculum centered around civic organizing,” Burger said. “Something that really sets us apart is that we found a gap and we’re trying to fill that … We are really actively sourcing a significant amount of lesson plans and information from people who are really experienced in [civic organizing].” Burger, who is graduating this semester, said working with her peers on TICO and developing their curriculum have been some of her favorite memories during her time at USC. Burger said working with TICO has not only helped satisfy her interest in civic organizing but also reminds her that there is hope for future generations to tackle today’s biggest problems. Ellie Burger, was the first woman and communication major from USC, to be awarded the Presidential Fellowship from the Center for the Study of the Presidency and Congress. (Photo courtesy of Ellie Burger) “It’s [been] one of the most incredibly rewarding experiences because it just kind of shows me that your education isn’t limited to your university — it doesn’t stop there,” Burger said. “You can make the most of your education and your involvement in your community.” Burger and her peers at TICO said they believe that current civics classes at the high school and college levels are insufficient in teaching students how to apply their knowledge on government and policy into tangible and effective civic organizing, which discourages them from making that first step.