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Belgium to directly reimburse psychologist visits

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From 1 September, a visit to a psychologist or remedial educationalist will be directly reimbursed by health insurance, as part of the country’s ‘mental health master plan.’

Currently, reimbursement for a session with a psychologist is only possible after a patient has been referred by a doctor, a policy that went into effect three years ago.

That requirement is now being lifted, reports De Standaard.

“We are moving towards accessible and affordable psychological help for everyone who needs it,” said Minister of Public Health Frank Vandenbroucke (Vooruit).

The news comes at a time when much of the country is feeling an acute need for psychological services in the wake of a global pandemic that has affected peoples’ health, social life and employment.

More than 6 in 10 young adults face anxiety and depression during 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.

Belgium’s ‘master health plan’ will start after the summer holidays are over.

Vandenbroucke anticipates a budget increase from €39 million last year to just under €152 million this year.

The rates will change this fall to a maximum of €11 for an individual session with a psychologist and €2.50 for a group session.

Adults are entitled to eight individual or five group sessions with a psychologist in primary care.

In specialised care, this increases to twenty individual and twelve group sessions.

Children and adolescents up to 23 years of age are entitled to more sessions in primary care.

The reimbursement for clinical psychologists and remedial educationalists will increase to €75 per consultation.

“The agreement is a very important step. The mental health master plan is the start of a new health model in which accessible and affordable psychological care must become available to everyone who needs it,” said Vandenbroucke.

“I want to explicitly thank the clinical psychologists, remedial educationalists, general practitioners, psychiatrists, patient and family associations, umbrella organisations and mutual health organisations for their constructive cooperation. I am looking forward to working with the sector and the federated entities to give concrete shape to the plans from September onwards.”

The Flemish Association of Clinical Psychologists (VVKP) is also pleased.

“An agreement is never perfect, but this is a milestone for our sector in many areas,” said VVKP spokesman Koen Lowet.

“Mental healthcare in Flanders is still very fragmented. Thanks to this agreement psychologists will be embedded in existing structures such as the first-line zones and the mental health networks. The idea that the psychologist is only there to treat a ‘sick’ patient is finally abandoned. Instead, we are moving towards keeping the wider population healthy, and clinical psychologists play an essential role in that.”

There was much criticism from the VVKP three years ago about the initial reimbursement plan.

The rates were so low then, according to VVKP, 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,” said Lowet.

“I expect that this time a lot of colleagues will be more positive.”

The new agreement is limited in time until the end of 2023, after which, a thorough evaluation will follow.

The Brussels Times