While Belgium’s health minister Frank Vandenbroucke was excited earlier this summer to announce a new reimbursement plan for mental health services from psychologists that would entitle people to a visit for as little as €11, the reality hasn’t met expectations.
According to the Association of Clinical Psychologists, only about 30 percent of psychologists fall under the €11 price point, De Standaard reports.
In May, the Flemish Association of Clinical Psychologists (VVKP) said they were confident that the new pricing scheme would prompt more psychologists to join.
There was much criticism from the VVKP three years ago about the initial reimbursement plan, whose rates were so low that only a minority of psychologists would agree to participate.
“In terms of content and finances, this proposal is more in line with the reality in the field,” spokesman Koen Lowet said back then, adding that, “I expect that this time a lot of colleagues will be more positive.”
This doesn’t seem to be the case.
The new reimbursement plan was part of Vandenbroucke’s “mental health master plan” for the country.
More than 6 in 10 young adults faced anxiety and depression during the pandemic, according to one survey, and a report by the GEMS, the advisory group to the Belgian government, found that young people’s mental health and well-being have been under the most pressure during the coronavirus crisis.
The lower rates for psychological services were supposed to be the centrepiece of the new mental health plan, for which Vandenbroucke has set aside a total of €151 million.
But Lowet says that €1.5 billion would be needed in order to provide reimbursement for every psychologist.
Still, he calls the current plan a “serious step” in the right direction.
The old pricing regulation wasn’t developed by minister Vandenbroucke, but by his predecessor Maggie De Block (Open VLD).
Vandenbroucke has raised the reimbursement: in addition to the €11 fee, the psychologist receives a sum from the government which puts the total payment at €75 per session.
But with the current available budget, it’s estimated that only 30 percent of all psychologists who have been contracted can count on reimbursement.
“At the moment we are not able to take along every psychologist who wants to join in the new plan,” said the professional association.
And for the psychologists who can participate, not all sessions can be reimbursed.
Despite the very optimistic promotion by politicians, Lowet says it has always been clear that not everyone will be able to see a psychologist for €11.
“What we are now launching in September is actually a pilot project,” he told De Standaard.
“That's a very broad plan where we're going to be able to do a lot of things within mental health care. And in 2023, when the pilot project ends, there may also be a broader reimbursement. But that’s for the minister to decide then.”
The cabinet of Minister Vandenbroucke is not aware of a problem with the budget.
“We want people to take the step to psychological help more quickly. That is why we almost quadrupled the budget for the first-line psychological sessions,” said Vandenbroucke.
“The intention is that psychologists who have already subscribed via the mental health network and who will also subscribe to the new convention in the coming months will have their sessions reimbursed.”
The Brussels Times