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Mental health counselors who treat clients with Medicaid suffer financiallySubmitted: 03/06/2017
Rose McBride
Rose McBride
Reporter/Anchor
rmcbride@wjfw.com

Mental health counselors who treat clients with Medicaid suffer financially
NORTHWOODS - You probably think therapists who have gone through years of schooling and practice would be making a lot of money. That isn't always the case. In places where large numbers of people being treated for mental health are on Medicaid, insurance companies pay therapists much less than their asking rate.

The numbers show our part of the state is short of mental health professionals. 

Natalie Wetzel-Rasumussen owns a counseling service in Elcho. She's the only therapist in the area. 

"I actually had a number of friends who closed their practices, and they're not up here anymore. They moved out of the area," said Wetzel-Rasmussen. 

Clients come from seven different counties to see her. Seventy percent of those people are on Medicaid.

"We are in an impoverished area, and even with our working poor people who have very good-paying jobs, sometimes two or three or four are on Medicaid," said Wetzel-Rasmussen.

But Medicaid only pays Wetzel-Rasmussen 32 percent of her rate. 

"Private practice is the least-paid--that's where I get the little bit more than someone who works at McDonald's rates," she said.

It's not just a problem for her. The problems spans the Northwoods and much of Wisconsin. 

"I think one of the challenges is not to become a profit-oriented business model when you're providing care to individuals," said Richard Martin, director of Transitions Center in Rhinelander. 

In a federally designated mental health shortage area where many current therapists are nearing retirement, we need to bring in new therapists. That's hard with low rates. 
 
"One of the things that could help is if they actually raised the rate," Martin said. "I think we got a 1-percent increase eight or nine years ago."

We could also take a page out of Minnesota's book, where Medicaid pays more than Wisconsin. 

"Because their Medicaid rate is 40 percent higher than Wisconsin's Medicaid rate, which means that clinicians in Wisconsin make 40 percent less in Medicaid alone than clinicians in Minnesota," said Wetzel-Rasmussen. "Why is that?" 

With low pay, long hours and much heartache, there's a reason they still do it. 

"Because the need is there," said Wetzel-Rasmussen. "Because the need is there. Because I can help people. I have a skill that helps people."  

"Our business mentor said, 'You're actually not a business.' I said, 'What do you mean?' He said, 'Well it should really be called a hobby because you're not making enough money to be called a business.' Which means there are other reasons why we do this," said Martin. 


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