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Kaiser Still Deficient, California Says

OAKLAND, Calif. (CN) – Kaiser Permanente has corrected only half of the deficiencies in its behavioral health services, according to a follow-up report by California’s Department of Managed Health Care.
     “Although Kaiser has taken substantial steps to identify and monitor issues related to timely access to behavioral health services, significant and serious concerns remain,” DMHC Director Shelley Rouillard said Tuesday in a statement.
     “Kaiser’s actions have not been sufficient to ensure enrollees have consistent timely access to behavioral health services.”
     After a survey of Kaiser’s behavioral health services in 2013, the DMHC fined the HMO $4 million. Kaiser agreed to pay the fine in September 2014.
     The follow-up survey was conducted in 2013-2014.
     The deficiencies affected Kaiser’s quality assurance systems, patients’ appointment waiting times, Kaiser’s efforts to correct deficiencies and the accuracy and clarity of its mental health education materials.
     The DMHC said in the report that Kaiser has corrected problems with its quality assurance systems and its appointment waiting times.
     “The Department finds that the plan created a new measure for tracking and reporting appointment wait times, developed reports that identify this data by plan medical center and department, and uses the reports for ongoing monitoring and reporting of its compliance with timely access,” the report states.
     But the report says that “the plan’s corrective actions have not sufficiently fixed the access-related problems identified,” and that “the Department’s review revealed individual cases in which providers disseminated inaccurate and misleading health education information to enrollees regarding the scope of their coverage for behavioral health services.”
     Kaiser said in a statement that since the follow-up review it has made more progress, including hiring more therapists and better engagement with community-based mental health care providers.
     “We are pleased the DMHC has deemed two of its prior findings corrected,” Kaiser said.
     “We are committed to continuing to improve. We acknowledge that there are still some areas where we need to continue making progress.”
     Kaiser said that to continue making progress, it needs cooperation from the National Union of Healthcare Workers, who went on strike in early January to protest Kaiser’s alleged violations of timely access laws.
     “While we have made significant progress in mental health access despite the union’s disagreements, we need to work together to continue making improvements,” Kaiser said.
     Members of medical workers unions have criticized Kaiser severely over the years.
     The DMHC’s next routine survey of Kaiser’s medical and behavioral health services is scheduled for late this year.

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