FAQ (Frequently Asked Questions)

Here are some FAQ – Frequently Asked (and answered) Questions. Just click on any question. Feel free to ask other questions by clicking here.

  1. How do you set up a first appointment? Other appointments?
  2. How do you schedule appointments? Do you have appointment reminders? (+ info on 48 hr. cancellation policy)
  3. Is relationship or couples counseling covered by health insurance?
  4. What is it like to work with you financially?
  5. Do you prescribe medication?
  6. Will you see me individually before beginning couples or relationship therapy with my partner(s)?
  7. Do you offer a free first appointment, so we can chat and get to know each other before starting therapy?
  8. What is an EAP benefit? Is it part of my health insurance?
  9. Am I responsible for verifying my mental health benefits?

1. How Do You Set Up A First Appointment?

I’ve tried to make the process easy with an online form, but also personal.  I make sure we speak by phone before meeting, with me answering all of your questions. Only after we’ve had that chance to talk will I personally secure your first appointment.

2. How Soon Can You Schedule An Appointment?

It depends mostly on the time(s) of day you are available. 1-3P is the most open block of time in my practice; 4-6P is the most in-demand. If you are able to come in at 1PM or 2PM I can likely see you within a week’s time. If you set up your first appointment at those times, even if it isn’t very convenient, we can meet sooner. And, I can bring you into my scheduling ‘system’, so that future appointments that fit your life can be easily made.

a. How I Schedule

To help make our schedules fit together more successfully, I typically keep two appointments scheduled with each client. After your first appointment, if you wish to schedule future appointments, we will arrange the next two. Usually the second appointment is two-three weeks out, when my schedule is a bit less crowded, so it’s easier to get the time and day you prefer.

At the end of each appointment, I access my online schedule of appointments, re-confirm the next appointment we made last time, and then set the new one, what I call the “forward appointment”. This system allows us to verbally and visually confirm – in the office – every appointment twice. That’s why I rely on what’s in the online schedule when there’s any scheduling problem.

b. Ease of Scheduling

By continuing that way of scheduling, it’s usually easier to get the appointment time you want. And, if you have to cancel any next appointment, we do not have to suddenly get your next one set up. If you must cancel without adequate (48 hour) notice, or if you do not appear, having the next appointment already scheduled qualifies you to pay only 75% of the regular cancellation fee.

c. Reminders/Cancellation/Reschedule notice

My scheduling system sends out two reminders, via e-mail and/or text. If you decide to cancel, you must send me an e-mail, text or voice mail to that effect. I do require a 48 business hour (this excludes weekends) period in which to cancel or reschedule an appointment. This is not a flexible policy; it does not take into account specific reasons for waivers. Cancellation fees are also reduced when the full (two appointments scheduled) policy is being followed.

When you (re-)schedule via e-mail or text, your appointment is only confirmed when you’ve received a reply message from me that says “Confirmed”.

3. Is Relationship Or Couples Counseling Covered By Health Insurance?

The answer(s) are: yes, and no. I’ll explain the confusion people are facing;  A starting point is the list of “covered procedures” maintained by the American Medical Association, called CPT (Current Procedural Terminology) codes. The list is used by the insurance industry.

a. Couples therapy? No. Family Therapy

If you call your insurance carrier (let’s say, Premera Blue Cross/Blue Shield)  and ask whether “couples therapy” is covered, they look it up in the list of your plan’s “covered procedures”.There is no official procedure entitled ‘Couples Therapy”, so you will be told that it is not covered. It is highly unlikely that you will be told that the most similar procedure, “family therapy with member present” could be covered. Or that the widely accepted CPT procedure code 90837 (or the briefer 90834) explicitly includes family member presence.

{INote that the term “family” is defined for insurance purposes by legal marriage. In formal terms, relationship therapy for unmarried partners is ineligible for insurance coverage – unless a domestic partnership has been declared.}

b. Individual Treatment Focus

Even if you were told these things, insurance carriers have historically interpreted the procedure in a limited way, so as to fit a basic rule of the larger medical model: there’s only one “identified” patient. It holds that the treatment focus must be on that individual’s diagnosis, no matter which other family member is attending therapy.  It follows from this interpretation that the same two family members (including spouses) should not attend more than a few appointments together, beyond what’s needed for basic assessment purposes. The medical model of treatment does not theoretically recognize couples or family treatment, only individual assessment.

c. Couples Therapy Policy

In my office, I advocate for clients understanding and properly using their benefits. I frequently work with relationship clients for 80 minute appointments. This length of appointment is not covered by any insurance carrier. Therefore, I use my private fee schedule. However, I always have you review and understand your benefit. There are often alternatives that allow for some coverage of your visits.

4. What is it like to work with you financially?

My office’s financial policies seek to be as accountable, private, confidential, accurate, safe and responsive as possible.

a. First appointment

When you secure your first appointment with a credit or debit account, the terms you’ve agreed to in the intake form allow me to use that account information to collect either private or insurance-related (co-payments, deductibles and co-insurance) amounts.

b. Appointment covered by insurance

For a typical appointment covered by insurance, I collect the “patient responsibility” amount (co-payment, deductible or co-insurance) when I receive my copy of the claim voucher (EOB) from the carrier, That’s about two weeks after the appointment. I deduct the exact amount.

c. Other out-of-pocket

If we have a private or sliding scale payment arrangement in place, I would use the credit/debit or checking account on file (encrypted/password protected) to deduct amounts due.

d. No-show or late cancellation

I use the account to reimburse my office for appointments where the client does not appear, or cancels the appointment with less than 48 hours notice.

e. Statements

I can produce statements of various kinds, including for HSA and FSA purposes, on demand, as needed by the client. I do not send out monthly statements by US Mail.

 5. Do you prescribe medication?

In a word, no. Medication prescription is not in the licensed scope of practice for LICSWs (or LMHCs or LMFTs either). Only MDs and ARNPs are legally able to prescribe in the State of Washington.

If you are using medication, I bring you the familiarity and support that comes from spending many hours on this subject with hundreds of clients. The longer, more frequent appointments for therapy, compared to brief follow-ups with MDs, allow my clients a greater ability to understand and evaluate the effects of their medications. We talk about a wide range of medication-related issues. Yet I am careful not to advise on various medical subjects that only physicians and specially trained nurses are qualified to discuss.

6. Will you see me individually before beginning couples or relationship therapy with my partner(s)?

I don’t encourage it. There are circumstances where a first individual appointment (an intake) should occur. Sometimes the prospect of couples therapy can bring high levels of anxiety (and avoidance). Starting with individual appointments sometimes “eases in” the relationships, but not always. If we start couples therapy with an individual appointment, then usually I want the next appointment to be for the other partner to come in individually. But it’s usually preferable to see relationship partners interact in my office, as soon as possible.

a. During couples therapy

I have long maintained a policy for individual therapy appointments during the course of couples or relationship work. As long as the request is brought up during an appointment,  which we can discuss further, I am open to offering appointments, with confidentiality.

 7. Do you offer a free first appointment, so we can chat and get to know each other before therapy begins?

I don’t offer that for a number of reasons. The primary reason is that the most efficient ‘interview’ is a regular therapy session. I do not know how to talk around the reasons you wish to receive help – I only know how to address them directly. We will get to know each other, but only in a professional relationship — and by doing the work over some number of appointments.

8. What is an EAP benefit? Is it part of my insurance?

EAP stands for Employee Assistance Program. Many companies offer it as an employee benefit. It is not part of health insurance, yet many EAPS are managed by a division of health insurance carriers. EAPs are meant to assist employees with personal or work-related problems (including mental health and substance abuse), and to be used before health insurance. Many therapists, including myself, see clients using EAP benefits.

You can receive an overall assessment and referrals to other professionals, if needed. In most cases, you can use your insurance to continue to work with me, after we’ve made an appropriate use of EAP covered appointments. EAPs also offer many “work-life balance” services, including legal, financial, healthcare, child and eldercare, etc.

9. Am I responsible for verifying my mental health benefits?

Yes. These days, it’s easier than in previous years, though I won’t say it’s always ‘easy’. You are responsible for knowing your benefit. Federal and state law require “parity” between medical and mental health benefits. That means your mental health benefit cannot be limited in more restrictive ways than your medical benefit.

What’s easier is that you usually can verify your benefit online at your carrier’s website, not just with a call to customer service (which can be confusing.) Whether you call or look online, you are seeking info on your “outpatient mental health benefit”. In some cases, the online access to mental health benefit plans is quite minimal, and customer service remains spotty. But all of the sites allow you to monitor claims, which I recommend as part of responsible health management.

“Carved Out”

The most confusing situation can be where your health insurance carrier has subcontracted the administration of the benefit to another insurance company. On the back of your health insurance card there’s sometimes a tel. number to call for “mental health benefits”. But often there’s a group of confusing symbols from corporate health insurance vendors.

Robert Odell LICSW/3214 W. McGraw St./Seattle, WA 98199/(206) 282-3137

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