Kaiser Agrees to Pay|$4 Million Fine

     OAKLAND, Calif. (CN) – Kaiser will pay a $4 million fine to California for “serious deficiencies in providing access to mental health care services,” the state says.
     The California Department of Mental Health Services (DMHC) levied the fine in June 2013 after a March 2013 survey showed deficiencies in Kaiser’s access to mental health care appointments.
     “The department’s actions are a result of both the seriousness of the deficiencies and the failure of Kaiser to promptly correct them,” DMHC Director Brent Barnhart said in a statement announcing the fine. “The Department is taking this action to ensure that Kaiser promptly corrects these deficiencies and provides its patients with the mental health care promised to them by their health plan.”
     DMHC identified “four serious deficiencies in providing access to mental health services.”
     The failures affect Kaiser’s quality assurance systems, Kaiser’s monitoring of its provider network to ensure appointment waits comply with regulatory timeframes, Kaiser’s responses to identified deficiencies, and the accuracy and clarity of Kaiser’s mental health education materials.
     Kaiser did not have to admit guilt.
     “We continue to disagree with the basis and size of the penalty as excessive and disproportionate to the findings in the department’s survey,” Kaiser said in a statement on its website. “We believe that we were not in violation of the timely access regulations and that the DMHC penalized us even though we met the compliance standards that the DMHC had expressly approved.”
     Courthouse News reported three class action lawsuits concerning Kaiser’s wait times for mental health appointments – one in January 2010 and two in November 2013. In one case, a woman claimed her husband had committed suicide while waiting to see a psychiatrist.
     In the latest class action against Kaiser , a family this week accused Kaiser of illegally canceling insurance of mentally ill people and dumping them on taxpayer-supported health care.
     Sal Roselli, president of the National Union of Healthcare Workers (NUHW), said in a statement: “By paying the fine, Kaiser finally acknowledged its violations, but it has yet to take meaningful steps to correct the underlying problems in its mental health care system. Until Kaiser fully staffs its psychiatry departments with enough psychologists, therapists and social workers to handle the ever-growing caseload and provide timely, quality care to their mental health patients, this crisis is far from over. Otherwise, the problem could grow worse as Kaiser adds hundreds of thousands new patients to its rolls in California and elsewhere through health care exchanges created by the Affordable Care Act.”

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