By Lisa Turner, LMFT
Special to The Witness
CEDAR RAPIDS — According to the Iowa State Data Center, in 2016 almost 36 percent of Iowans lived in rural areas. Community needs assessments conducted within the boundaries of the Archdiocese of Dubuque indicate that long wait times for appointments because there aren’t enough providers, and lack of transportation to and from clinics and appointments are barriers in accessing healthcare and mental health services in rural Iowa.
While Catholic Charities offers mental health counseling services in many locations, distance from a person’s home to a counseling office can also be a barrier to mental health services. Telebehavioral health addresses that barrier. Telemedicine, or telebehavioral health, is the delivery of counseling services to clients using technology. These technologies can include videoconferencing, as well as other online applications, to conduct counseling visits by interactive video, with the provider and client in different locations. In practical language, this means that it doesn’t matter if there is a provider in your area, and it doesn’t matter if you can’t travel 60 miles to get there. Telebehavioral health can potentially be offered in a location that is convenient for you, the client.
In April of this year, the Iowa Legislature passed House File 2305, requiring commercial health insurers in the state of Iowa to “provide healthcare services via telehealth to the same extent those services are covered via in-person care.” This includes mental health servics. Until recently, Iowa was just one of a few states that did not allow this, but has now reached a certain level of parity, or equality.
This new law means that there should no longer be discrimination in how a healthcare service is delivered. For example, if your private insurance plan covers mental health services, a resident of Iowa should be able to receive those services in person or by telemedicine.
So what does this mean for residents of the Archdiocese of Dubuque? Imagine visiting with your therapist from the comfort of your local community, without the added time constraint of traveling 30 to 60 miles. Catholic Charities will be piloting this project beginning in the fall of 2018. For example, using technology, a client may be able to go to the Cedar Rapids office and receive a counseling session from a counselor in another Catholic Charities office.
The experience of telebehavioral health will be similar to face-to-face counseling in that, within the privacy of an office, you will be talking with a Catholic Charities counselor through the computer. The computer will be equipped with HIPAA compliant video software, as well as high speed and confidential internet capabilities. Qualified staff will assist you in getting settled in the counseling office, troubleshooting any technical problems that might arise, and connecting you with a counselor on the other end.
Everything else about the appointment will be the same as if you were meeting face-to-face with your counselor. You and the counselor will go through any necessary paperwork that is required, including payment options and insurance. Catholic Charities accepts many forms of payments, including insurance, and your benefits will be checked prior to you first appointment, so that there is a clear understanding of copay, coinsurance, and deductible. If you do not have insurance or if your insurance does not cover mental health services, we offer a sliding fee schedule with payment based on your income. The option to use insurance, or pay on a sliding fee scale, makes counseling attainable for anyone who is truly in need. No one is turned away for their inability to pay.
Catholic Charities provides professional counseling for marriages, families, and individuals experiencing various social, emotional, and interpersonal struggles. Major problems can be avoided through early intervention by helping people find new ways to deal with daily struggles. Counseling provides help to work out problems before they become a crisis, helping maintain emotional health and strengthen relationships.
If you are interested in being a part of this pilot project, and live in or near the Cedar Rapids area, please call 319-364-7121 for more information on telebehavioral health, or to schedule an appointment.
Lisa Turner, a licensed marriage and family therapist, is a counselor at Catholic Charities’ Ames office.
The TV screen, camera and computer above will be used to help connect people in need with Catholic Charities mental health counselors. (Photo by Jeremy Jones)