Licensed professional counselors who undergo a TRICARE credentialing process will soon be able to service beneficiaries of the federal program as independent practitioners.
Counselors are the last licensees among mental health professionals to qualify to treat TRICARE clients independently, says James Finley, director of public policy for the American Mental Health Counselors Association (AMHCA). Psychiatrists, psychologists, clinical social workers and marriage and family therapists already service the program independently.
Counselors have been treating clients from the armed services, and their family members, but only under the supervision of a physician.
That could end as early as this spring, when new administrative rules are generated by TRICARE spelling out specifically how counselors can become “Certified Mental Health Counselors.”
But perhaps the most important component of the new certification is already known. That is, a national certification exam that has been around for some time but is not a requirement for counselor licensure in all states.
“People in many states haven’t seen the exam before,” Finley says. “It’s going to be entirely new to them. And by the way, this is a very difficult test. Many clinicians aren’t going to pass it the first time.”
In addition, counselors will need to apply for credentialing through TRICARE and Finley expects this to involve “a fair amount of paperwork.” The government agency will have its own supervision requirements, for example, that may differ from a state requirement.
Approval for the new licensure was announced Dec. 27. Comments on the administrative rules pertaining to the designation are being accepted until Feb. 27. For its members, comments can be submitted through AMHCA, or they can be submitted directly by going to www.regulations.gov and following the instructions.
They can also be mailed to: Federal Docket Management System Office, 4800 Mark Center Drive, 2nd Floor, East Tower, Ste. 02G09, Alexandria, VA 22350-3100.
To access information about the certification test, go to: http://nbcc.org/OurCertifications.
Finley says he doesn’t know how many professional counselors will begin directly working with TRICARE clients. TRICARE reimbursement rates, he notes, “are not great. They’re about the same as Medicare. But it can be a significant part of a clinician’s business.
“We do know there’s a tremendous amount of PTSD in the TRICARE community, so the demand for services is going to go up a lot over the next decade or more.
“Clinicians should look at this as an area of growth. They’re going to be particularly interested depending on what kind of military presence is in their community. If the bases are there, the people are going to be there.”
CONTACT James Finley in Alexandria, VA at 800-326-2642, X-105 or at JFinley@amhca.org
- John Nelander, Contributing Editor