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State Says Kaiser Too Slow With Mental Health Help

Aired 6/25/13 on KPBS News.

California health regulators say Kaiser isn't doing enough to provide timely access to mental health services for its patients. As a result, the state announced a four-Million dollar fine against Kaiser Tuesday.

California health regulators say Kaiser isn't doing enough to provide timely access to mental health services for its patients. As a result, the state announced a four-Million dollar fine against Kaiser Tuesday.

The claims against Kaiser are based on a routine medical survey done by the state Department of Managed Health Care, or DMHC, which is led by Brent Barnhart.

"I wasn't prepared for kind of the sweeping non-compliance that we encountered," Barnhart said.

The DMHC survey found that 40 percent of the wait times at Kaiser for mental health service appointment were longer than 14 days, a violation of state rules. Barnhart says two weeks is too long for someone who needs quick intervention.

"Particularly in a case where somebody is really significantly depressed or troubled and potentially suicidal that's a major problem, it's not just an inconvenience," Barnhart said.

In a statement, Kaiser officials say: they've been working to speed up the timeliness of initial, non-urgent appointments; that the four-million dollar fine is excessive and unnecessary; and that they will review the fine with the DMHC.

Nearly seven-million people get their coverage from Kaiser, making it the largest health care system in California.

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