Better way to bill for services
Petition calls for province to change funding model for psychologists
A group of psychologists believe there’s a better way to provide mental health services that not only frees up doctors but could save the province money as well.
The Edmonton Psychologists Interagency Committee, made up of three privately run businesses, has created a petition online asking for support to change the funding model for how Albertans access mental health services.
Within the first six days, the petition surpassed its original goal of 2,500 signatures.
One of the main asks by the committee, which formed last year, is to allow registered psychologists to bill Alberta Health Services (AHS) directly like physical therapists, chiropractors or optometrists.
“(The) system is backlogged,” said Janet Ryannewell, CEO and senior psychologist with Kells Counselling.
“I’m referred to all the time by doctors. I end up with clients who come much later, often referred by doctors, who may be on a number of medications when we could have found a different way to intervene.”
Unless an individual or family can afford a private psychologist or has coverage through an insurance plan, patients often have to go to a physician for mental-health issues, she said.
Cory Hrushka, CEO and psychologist with Insight Psychological, said the vast majority of calls doctors deal with involve mental health.
Generally, the doctor will see the patient for a few minutes before referring them to a psychologist.
He said sometimes a doctor will bring in a behavioural specialist but they don’t address larger issues such as trauma.
Steve Buick, a spokesman for the associate minister of mental health and addictions, said the UCP government provides funding to Alberta Health Services, which employs more than 400 psychologists.
“Our government has the greatest respect for the work of psychologists,” he said. “They’re an integral part of health care, managing mental-health problems as well as working as part of the team supporting patients with other conditions like heart disease and cancer.”
He said the government looks forward to working with the College of Alberta Psychologists to improve access but noted the proposal for direct billing is in opposition to a Mackinnon panel recommendation with the government pursuing alternatives to fee-for-service payment, to promote a more integrated team approach.
The Mackinnon report, also known as the blue-ribbon panel, looked at Alberta’s finances with recommendations to curtail spending.
Buick added the recommendation was for physicians but applies to health professionals in general.
Hrushka said the government doesn’t have to use a fee-for-service model.
“We’re working with a government agency right now ... to help them retool what they’re doing to make it more cost-effective because they’re paying people to triage,” he said.
“I’m already paying someone to do that privately. It would save (the government) $200,000 for one agency. That’s just one agency. Why don’t we just do the screenings, we will work with you on this and you’ll save a whole bunch of money and we’ll get more business. And we’ll get more specialized care for those individuals that may need it. It is not costing them anything to work with us.”
The committee expects to forward the petition along with its recommendations to the government and Premier Jason Kenney by this week.
Registered psychologists Cory Hrushka, left, and Janet Ryan-newell have launched an online petition to improve mental health services in the province.