Jewish Family Service Begins Accepting Insurance for Mental Health Services
Throughout its existence, Jewish Family Service of Austin has offered a sliding fee scale as its longstanding means of payment for counseling services. The utilization of a sliding scale has ensured that professional counseling and therapy services have always been available to anyone, regardless of ability to pay. Over the years, structuring the JFS counseling program to provide broad accessibility has helped many people living on low or fixed incomes to utilize life-changing mental health services that may not have been available to them otherwise.
Ensuring that high quality professional counseling remains available to people of all income levels continues to be a deeply held value of the JFS staff team and volunteer advisory cabinet. While the organization continues to offer sliding scale fees and has no plans to stop doing so, JFS also now accepts several insurance plans that provide coverage for mental health services.
This shift has widened access to JFS counseling to include people who are seeking services that are covered by their health insurance. The process of becoming an in-network provider with different insurers is ongoing, and JFS currently accepts health plans offered through Medicare, Medicare supplemental plans, Blue Cross Blue Shield, United Health Care, Humana and Magellan.
JFS Executive Director Gil Levy believes that accepting insurance to cover mental health services is fundamental to the future of JFS operations.
“JFS is here to strengthen well-being for people across the lifespan, and to do this effectively, it’s important that we respond to the changing needs of our community. More people have some form of coverage now than in past years and we are seeing increased interest in utilizing those benefits to focus on self-care and personal growth. Medicare, for example, provides excellent coverage for counseling for older adults,” he said.
Levy added, “In many cases, our clients who recently began utilizing Medicare for their services experienced a reduction or even total elimination of their out-of-pocket costs for service. Increasingly, we are receiving requests for service from a broader range of people, some of whom are seeking counseling from JFS based on our inclusion in their insurance plan as well as our proximity to their home or work locations. We will continue to offer a sliding scale to ensure we can help anyone, regardless of their financial means, and JFS is now positioned to offer high quality services to more people.”
JFS therapist Emma Howitt explained that these changes are resulting in a wider range of clients accessing services.
“Since JFS began taking insurance, we’ve had many new clients who are interested in counseling reach out to us. It’s been exciting to open our door to more Austinites who are seeking personal guidance. The insurance companies are referring clients to us with a diversity of mental health needs, including depression, anxiety, relationship issues, major life changes, substance abuse, and more. We are seeing clients with insurance coming to us from all walks of life, including the Jewish community, the LGBTQ+ community, and the Austin community at large. Regardless of their needs, I am passionate about working with clients who are looking to focus on their personal wellness and develop healthy changes in their everyday lives”, Howitt said.
Lay leaders engaged with JFS are pleased to see the organization increasing its availability to both the local Jewish community and the broader community in Austin.
Former longtime JFS Cabinet Member Lawrence Maze said, “There have been many times in our history when people came to JFS seeking to utilize their insurance coverage, but weren’t able to do so. It’s wonderful to see this start to change along with societal attitudes about the value of mental health services. The Medicare program for older adults as well as private insurance plans for people in the workforce now tend to offer decent benefits in this area, and it’s fantastic that JFS is now able to provide those covered services.”
Lenny Krasnow, JFS Cabinet member, and Dallas-based M.B. and Edna Zale Foundation president, said, “As an advocate and supporter of Jewish Family Service, seeing the organization expand access to its counseling services is a natural expression of our Jewish values.”
These values include Tikkun Olam, making the world a better place, as well as Kehillah, community building.
“Helping individuals and families in need, in Central Texas and beyond, is part of our DNA—it’s what we do as Jews”, Krasnow added.
Current Jewish Family Service Cabinet Chair Kim Schocket explained that she is excited that JFS is expanding in this new direction.
“I am thrilled that JFS has become a credentialed Medicare provider. I feel this is an important milestone in the growth of JFS as an organization and allows us to have a greater footprint in the ever-expanding Austin community,” she said.
Schocket, a clinical health psychologist specializing in helping patients cope with managing pain, added, “Many clients seeking mental health services do so by looking to their insurance provider network. We are excited about the potential increase in both client visits and revenue from this addition, and believe this will allow JFS to provide a larger breadth of services in the future.”
JFS welcomes anyone interested in seeking counseling.
Levy said he and the JFS staff team share the perspective that they are here to help in whatever way we can.
"Whether that means providing counseling, geriatric care management, basic needs support, or to help identify and link people with the right external resource, we are available for anyone interested in exploring wellness and support for themselves or a loved one,” he said. ■
JFS of Austin can be reached by phone at 512-250-1043 and by email at JFS@shalomaustin.org.