I am writing to you regarding the lack of laws to protect consumers from persons practicing mental health online. While online therapy provides consumers another avenue to seek help there are some obvious flaws in the current system. At this point the AMA has issued a CPT code for online therapy that will be effective in July 2004. While this may benefit some consumers it will not benefit all. In order for online therapy to be a successful avenue or option for consumers, protections must be set in place to protect consumers. You can help make a difference by addressing the following concerns:
The current laws are set up to protect consumers from mental health care providers who are licensed and behaving unethically. The laws are not set up to protect the consumer from unlicensed providers practicing online. As mental health care grows online, so does the opportunity for fraud and misrepresentation.
The law needs to change to reflect the times, i.e. more industries including mental health are now online.
Lack of Continuity
The process to check licensure of mental health care providers is very difficult because of a lack of continuity in licensing across states for each individual license type. For instance, a Licensed Professional Counselor (LPC) credential requirements might be different state to state. A consumer would have to check the state licensing board that the alleged counselor resides in and not every state licensing board is online. It would be helpful if there was one online clearinghouse with a searchable database that could disseminate this information at no cost for any inquiring consumer.
Consumers require more ways to advocate for themselves. One way would be to include in each state laws, the mandate for all licensing boards to provide free access to provider information online, information such as the providers name, and when the license expires, type of license held, and previous charges for misconduct. While many boards do this there are several that do not. Some licensing boards in some states attempt to charge consumers to find out if a provider is even licensed. Some require that their requests be in writing. Licensing boards were put in place to protect the public in general and somewhere along the line that fact became forgotten in some states.
Stiffer Penalties Needed
At this point in time, licensing boards have very little they can do to persons on the internet who are not licensed, short of a civil levy (maximum of $500). Practicing without a license is considered a misdemeanor under current laws. No one wants to admit the obvious. There is no way to regulate and enforce mental health practice on the internet. This is an area where patient rights are sorely needed.
As my state representative, I ask that you take these consumer concerns seriously. Healthcare reform is sorely needed. Even with Medicare there is a disparity in co-payment for health (80%) versus mental health coverage (50%). Although there are so many pressing issues surrounding healthcare reform I ask that you please factor the internet into the equation.
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