Mental health counselors seek state licensing Approval would ensure recognition by insurers

March 13, 1997|By Ivan Penn | Ivan Penn,SUN STAFF

Maryland mental health counselors are asking the state to license their profession, to ensure that insurance companies recognize them as legitimate health care providers.

During a hearing before the Senate Economic and Environmental Affairs Committee yesterday, counselors said some insurers -- particularly health maintenance and managed care organizations -- don't want to cover their services because they aren't regulated.

At issue are professional counselors who demonstrate that they are trained mental health therapists with at least a master's degree and 3,000 supervised counseling sessions.

Unlike other professionals who provide similar services, such as psychologists and social workers, they are not state-licensed.

Supporters of the bill, sponsored by Sen. David R. Craig, a Harford County Republican, said licensing also would allow the state to sanction counselors who are problems.

"We protect the public from plumbers, electricians and beauticians who aren't certified," said Dr. Sharon E. Cheston, chairwoman of the Board of Examiners of Professional Counselors. "Why not counselors? Under current law, counselors don't even have to be certified."

Opponents, who were far out-numbered by the bill's supporters yesterday, raised concerns about the scope of the licensing measure. They fear that the bill is so broad that even high school counselors could get licenses.

"There's a broad range of professional counseling," said Pam Kasemeyer, a lobbyist representing the Maryland Psychological Association. "It's just a tremendous, dramatic change. We've got tremendous concerns."

Because psychologists and social workers are licensed, they usually are recognized by insurance companies for their services.

And counselors in 38 states and the District of Columbia are licensed professionals, according to Henry J. Raymond, a professor at Bowie State University who testified in support of the bill.

Witnesses yesterday said Maryland's counselors want the same classification, and said their training warrants it. Those who are certified already must prove they have taken 60 credit hours of college training in the mental health field, which Raymond said was equal to or greater than the credit requirements of many states that license counselors.

Sen. Paula C. Hollinger, vice chairwoman of the Economic and Environmental Affairs Committee, said state employees have complained that their insurers would no longer pay for counselors' services.

Pub Date: 3/13/97

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