Mental health counselors urge governor to expand SC Medicaid coverage

VIDEO: Mental health counselors urge governor to expand SC Medicaid coverage

CHARLESTON, S.C. (WCSC) - Lowcountry counselors are predicting an increase in mental health concerns across the state because of the coronavirus.

As people transition to online counseling, experts are worried some people won't get the help they need.

The S.C. Department of Health and Human services recently included updates for Medicaid coverage.

The agency is now allowing counselors and psychologists to give therapy on the phone and online, but experts say the option isn’t available to provisionally licensed counselor associates.

Counselors who have a provisional license are under supervision.

Right now, they are choosing between seeing their clients in person or not seeing them at all. Experts say this is especially difficult when trying to practice social-distancing.

Jeremy Henderson-Teelucksingh is a national certified counselor at Changes Counseling Center. He says at times like this it’s especially important to talk to a professional.

"There are clients that all of us clinicians deal with who think about suicide," Henderson-Teelucksingh said. "At times like these when anxiety, depression, and your mental health concerns become bigger because they don't have social support, the risk becomes so much higher when you're left alone."

New clients under Medicaid are also not eligible for the telehealth services.

"Right now they're saying only if you were getting services already are you able to get services now. Anyone else who has gotten a lot more stressed now that this is all going on, they're sort of out of luck," Charleston Counseling Center COO Chris Lacour said.

Both counselors are asking Gov. Henry McMaster to extend coverage to include these new clients and these licensed professionals.

Henderson-Teelucksingh has created a petition that has received over 1,100 signatures.

The South Carolina Department of Health and Human Services released the following statement:

Over the last three weeks, SCDHHS has issued daily guidance to extend unprecedented flexibilities to provider groups in its network to ensure Healthy Connections Medicaid members have access to the care they need. This includes expanding telemedicine coverage to a wide variety of behavioral and mental health care providers, in addition to the Medicaid program’s existing telemedicine benefits.

SCDHHS has largely followed the guidance of federal authorities and state licensing boards, in consultation with clinicians and thought leaders from across the state, in adding these telemedicine flexibilities. The agency realizes additional guidance may be warranted to address the needs of Healthy Connections Medicaid members during the prolonged period of social distancing and has committed to its members and the provider community that it will continue to develop flexibilities to ensure access to care. SCDHHS is committed to this continued partnership and encourages providers and Healthy Connections Medicaid members to reach out to COVID@scdhhs.gov so it can continue to be responsive to the needs of our fellow South Carolinians.

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