A major step was recently taken to incorporate peer specialists as integral parts of the healthcare industry.
The National Uniform Coding Committee (NUCC) approved coding of peer specialist services on March 18. This coding, specific to peer specialists, will enable state and federal agencies to bill peer support services more effectively and facilitate better tracking of such services. The NUCC is made up of major health care providers and insurance industry members including the Center for Medicare and Medicaid services, and other public health organizations.
The coding is especially important for the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, the largest single employer of peer specialists, as it will allow that department to more efficiently bill and track peer specialists’ work. There are other benefits, according to Dan O’Brien- Mazza, Director of Peer Support Services for the department.
"This classification puts peer specialists on par with other mental health professionals," he says. "It is a measure of respect and recognition of the important and valuable services peer specialists provide. It better allows peer specialists to work alongside other mental health professionals. No one can say peer specialist is not a legitimate health care profession."
Approval of the classification is an indicator of a maturing profession delivering on outcomes of strength-based recovery and whole health, according to Larry Fricks, Director of the Appalachian Consulting Group.
"When a new workforce emerges (peer specialists) it moves forward in increments. We are on a critical path," Fricks says. "With this classification and key milestones like the Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services proclaiming peer support services as evidence-based in 2007 and providing states with billing guidelines, our role is increasingly valued. We may still have challenges, but this is another significant step in the right direction."
O’Brien-Mazza says the classification is likely to have additional importance as the Department of Veterans Affairs strives to expand peer specialists into larger, whole health roles.
The NUCC defines the classification as follows: Peer Specialists—Individuals certified to perform peer support services through a training process defined by a government agency such as the Department of Veterans Affairs, or a state mental health department/certification/licensing authority.
The new code will be included in a July 1 release of changes to the code set and will be effective Oct. 1, 2014. Although many states have other codes to use to bill Medicaid, this new classification is likely to be adopted by states in order to simplify billing and keep more accurately account for peer support activities and services.
"Dan deserves much credit for this accomplishment," says Steve Harrington, Executive Director of the International Association of Peer Supporters. "It was his leadership that resulted in this important step. This is yet another way the Department of Veterans Affairs has been leading the development of peer support in the U.S."