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TRICARE Increases Mental Health Care Providers

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TRICARE beneficiaries soon will have another option for mental health providers, the Defense Department announced.

As of Aug. 18, enrollees in the military’s health care system can choose between independent TRICARE-certified mental health counselors (TCMHC) or supervised mental health counselors (SMHC) under a final rule the department published in the Federal Register on July 17. The TRICARE-certified counselors are independent providers who can treat beneficiaries without a physician’s oversight as long as they have a master’s degree from a mental health counseling program accredited by the Council for Accreditation of Counseling and Related Education Programs, and pass the National Clinical Mental Health Counseling exam by Jan. 1, 2017. SMHCs provide care under the referral and supervision of TRICARE doctors.

The fiscal 2011 National Defense Authorization Act required Defense to develop criteria and guidance to allow licensed mental health counselors to provide and be paid for independent care to TRICARE beneficiaries to improve the quality of mental health care and standardize it. Before the change, enrollees only had access to SMHCs. The 2011 interim rule proposed phasing out supervised mental health counselors, but the final rule allows their services to continue indefinitely, giving them more time to obtain the necessary credentials to practice independently, and ensuring enrollees aren’t shortchanged because of fewer providers.  

“TRICARE will not phase out SMHCs but instead will continue to authorize them as TRICARE providers indefinitely,” said Patricia Moseley, military child and family behavioral health senior policy analyst at the Defense Health Agency, in a statement discussing the change. “So beneficiaries who are currently receiving treatment from a mental health counselor can continue their care with their existing provider whether that is a SMHC or TCMHC.”

A 2010 report from the Government Accountability Office found that independent mental health providers were not familiar with TRICARE, and were more reluctant than physicians to accept TRICARE patients, in part because of a concern over reimbursement rates.

(Image via Steve Cukrov/Shutterstock.com)

Kellie Lunney covers federal pay and benefits issues, the budget process and financial management. After starting her career in journalism at Government Executive in 2000, she returned in 2008 after four years at sister publication National Journal writing profiles of influential Washingtonians. In 2006, she received a fellowship at the Ohio State University through the Kiplinger Public Affairs in Journalism program, where she worked on a project that looked at rebuilding affordable housing in Mississippi after Hurricane Katrina. She has appeared on C-SPAN’s Washington Journal, NPR and Feature Story News, where she participated in a weekly radio roundtable on the 2008 presidential campaign. In the late 1990s, she worked at the Housing and Urban Development Department as a career employee. She is a graduate of Colgate University.

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