Mental health care providers blast private manager

By JOHN MILLER

Associated PressJanuary 24, 2014

BOISE, Idaho — Mental health professionals blasted a private company now managing behavioral health care for low-income Idaho residents, saying the contract is plagued with problems and hours-long delays that not only make the process more difficult but could put their clients at risk.

A joint House and Senate Health and Welfare Committee meeting Friday provided a venue to criticize Optum, a Minnesota-based health care services management company whose parent company is UnitedHealth Group.

Since September, it’s being paid $10.5 million monthly to administer outpatient behavioral health services for Idaho’s Medicaid program as the state seeks to as it seeks to control costs, boost efficiency and give incentives to providers to offer appropriate services when they’re needed. However, private providers in Idaho say the transition has been fraught with poor communication, including spending hours on hold with the company’s representatives as they seek to authorize services for people suffering from mental illnesses.

Nikki Tangen, of Boise-based Access Behavioral Health Services, contends Optum has exacerbated a bottleneck in getting care to clients in crisis. One prospective patient barred from getting help is now in a psychiatric hospital, another committed a felony offense and another burned his house down, Tangen said, complaining she currently has 16 new clients on hold because nobody will tell her if services will be covered.