L.A. Times: California fines Kaiser $4 million over access to mental care

NUHW In the NewsJune 27, 2013

California officials have fined healthcare giant Kaiser Permanente $4 million for problems related to patient access to mental health services.

The fine announced Tuesday stems from deficiencies the California Department of Managed Health Care identified in March that were found during a routine medical survey. This marks the agency’s second-largest enforcement action after a $10 million fine against Anthem Blue Cross in 2008 related to improper policyholder cancellations.

“The Department’s actions are a result of both the seriousness of the deficiencies and the failure of Kaiser to promptly correct them,” said Brent Barnhart, director of the Department of Managed Health Care.

“The Department is taking this action to ensure that Kaiser promptly corrects these deficiencies and provides its patients with the mental healthcare promised to them by their health plan,” Barnhart added.

State officials said Kaiser’s problems covered a variety of issues affecting patients. It found that Kaiser needed to better track and monitor the availability of providers.

The health plan needs to ensure that appointments are offered in a timely manner and improvements to care are made when deficiencies are identified, according to the state investigation.

Regulators also said that Kaiser’s educational materials and its “frequently asked questions” included inaccurate information that could dissuade a patient from seeking care.

John Nelson, a spokesman for Kaiser, said each of the state’s findings “has already been corrected or is very far along toward resolution.”

In light of that, the company said the “amount of the proposed penalty is unwarranted and excessive.”

Agency officials said they would conduct a follow-up survey in October to ensure Kaiser has corrected the deficiencies and is complying with the law.