CalPERS’ Pension and Health Benefits Committee holds hearing on Kaiser mental health system

KaiserNovember 26, 2019

On Tuesday, Nov. 19, the California Public Employees Retirement System took an important step toward holding Kaiser Permanente accountable for providing timely, adequate mental health services and the Department of Managed Health Care accountable for making sure Kaiser complies with the state’s Mental Health Parity Act.

Acting on the recommendation of State Controller Betty Yee and State Treasurer Fiona Ma, the CalPERS’ Pension and Health Benefits Committee convened a hearing during which members could question Kaiser and DMHC officials. Click here to view highlights.

Sarah Soroken, a Kaiser therapist in the Bay Area, pulled no punches in describing the shortcomings in Kaiser’s system.

“At Kaiser clinics across the state we are routinely unable to deliver timely clinically appropriate care. Patients in my region typically wait one-to-two months for individual psychotherapy treatments… these wait times are completely inconsistent with professionally recognized standards of care, which is weekly or biweekly appointments at the beginning of treatment… The root problem is the understaffing of Kaiser mental health services and the inadequacy of Kaiser’s external networks of contracted therapists…”

Soroken also addressed Kaiser’s transition to doing more intake appointments by phone, which has resulted in children waiting up to eight weeks before having their first face-to-face appointment.

“I support your efforts to investigate the adequacy of Kaiser’s mental health services,” she told the board members. “Lives are in the balance.

CalPERS is the largest purchaser of health coverage in California and Kaiser’s largest customer. The system pays Kaiser approximately $4 billion per year to provide health coverage to approximately 650,000 state, county and local government employees, retirees and their families.

CalPERS Board members questioned both Kaiser officials and DMHC Director Shelly Rouillard about why Kaiser hasn’t fully remedied the mental health access issues for which it remains under state-ordered outside monitoring. During her testimony, Rouillard acknowledged “we know there are instances where people aren’t getting timely access to care.”

Our next step would be to seek an audit that could provide ammunition for making Kaiser refund premium payments to CalPERS members who did not get the mental health services they were entitled to receive in their health plan.