Ketamine Treatment and Insurance Coverage: A Complex Relationship


Ketamine Treatment and Insurance Coverage: A Complex Relationship

May 24, 2024

At Northwest Ketamine Clinics, we understand that patients often have questions about insurance coverage for IV ketamine treatments. The topic is complex, and often frustrating for both patients and clinics like ourselves, with several factors contributing to the current landscape of insurance and IV ketamine therapy. In this blog, we will explore some of the reasons why insurance companies may not cover ketamine therapy and shed light on how some clinics are able to offer in-network coverage while we choose not to.

Why Insurance Companies Don’t Cover Ketamine

  1. Ketamine’s Experimental Status: Ketamine, a long-established drug, lacks the patent protection that could make it a highly profitable option for pharmaceutical companies. Which means that those companies are not on the front lines demanding better reimbursement like they do for their treatments/medications. Ketamine, while originally approved for anesthesia and analgesia, is often used off-label for various treatments, much like other drugs which are covered by insurance without issue. For example, propranolol, approved for blood pressure control, is commonly used for migraines and tremors and is covered by insurance for off-label use with no issues.

One significant reason insurance companies may not cover ketamine treatments is the perception that these treatments are experimental. Despite substantial research and clinical efficacy demonstrated by medical professionals and some of the most prestigious universities throughout the world.

  1. Patient Demand: Insurance companies have developed a bad reputation for not extending coverage to ketamine therapy treatments, primarily because they face no obligation to do so. Insurance companies respond to consumer demand. Until a large group of patients, and employers choosing employee plans, demand coverage for ketamine therapy treatment, insurers will be reluctant to include it in their offerings to protect their bottom line.

The Role of FDA Approval and New Variations

Ketamine is an old drug with a long-expired patent. It was originally FDA approved for anesthesia and analgesia in 1970. However, because of its existing FDA approval, it can be used “off-label” for other indications. Many medications, up to 1/5 of all prescriptions, are used off-label and are covered by insurance.

Recently, companies have patented the S- and R- enantiomers of ketamine. Janssen Pharmaceuticals’ S-ketamine (Esketamine nasal spray) received FDA approval for the treatment of severe depression, even though the efficacy data was met with controversy and has been shown to be far less effective than IV Ketamine therapy; with one study noting a single IV ketamine treatment 3 times superior to esketamine

Limited Reimbursement

While there has been some movement in patient reimbursement for ketamine therapy, insurance companies do not have established policies to cover these treatments comprehensively. Reimbursement outcomes can vary among patients and insurers. Some may see expenses applied to deductibles, while others may receive coverage for office visits. The process can be time-consuming and require extensive follow-up and documentation. We have noticed that the in-network ketamine clinics’ Google reviews signal just this from their own patients; a constant battle with insurance and patients being hit with additional and unexpected billing statements months after treatment.

Even when insurance covers ketamine treatments, patients may still bear a significant portion of the cost. High-deductible plans and substantial co-pays can result in patients having to cover most of their treatment expenses. 

Why We Don’t Accept Insurance When Other Clinics May

At Northwest Ketamine Clinics, as the longest standing and most experienced ketamine therapy provider in the PNW, we are committed to providing the safest and most effective care to our patients. While we are happy to offer advice, support, and superbills to assist patients in seeking reimbursement from their insurance companies, there are several reasons why we do not directly accept insurance at this time:

Please Note: Our team is happy to run a benefits check to figure out the details of your out-of-network plan at no cost. If you want a more precise reimbursement estimate, we can also provide treatment codes for you to share directly with your insurance company! All we need to run the benefits check is the name of your insurance company, your member ID (with prefix letters if applicable), and date of birth.

  1. Complexity and Appeals: Dealing with insurance companies often involves constant appeals, denials, and bureaucratic hurdles. This process can be time-consuming and frustrating for both patients and providers resulting in the need for additional staff which raises costs even higher.
  2. Low Reimbursement for Mental Health: Mental health services, in general, are often poorly reimbursed by insurance companies. Many providers have chosen to leave in-network coverage due to the challenges of securing fair payment. The medical space (including rent, supplies and staffing) is expensive and often in-network reimbursement doesn’t cover our cost to provide the service. Some clinics who choose to be in-network do so by monitoring several patients at the same time, sometimes up to 4 patients all at the same time. This allows them to accept the lower rate of reimbursement since they are infusing so many people at one time. This takes away from the level of care and attention that we provide our patients, but more importantly, from the quality of care anyone deserves. 
  3. Lack of Reimbursement for Ketamine Therapy: Insurers typically do not cover ketamine treatments, and the exceptions are rare. Accepting insurance for a treatment that is not reimbursed by insurers would result in financial challenges for our clinic. This has been seen time and time again throughout the nation as in-network clinics have been forced to shut their doors. 

While there have been some positive developments in insurance reimbursement for ketamine treatments, the landscape remains complex, and coverage is not guaranteed. We are dedicated to assisting our patients in navigating this process and providing them with the best possible care. If you have questions about insurance coverage for ketamine treatments, please don’t hesitate to reach out to our team. We are here to support you on your journey to improved mental health. And remember, with Northwest Ketamine Clinics, we believe in transparent pricing; there are no hidden fees, no additional billing invoices after treatment, no additional credit card processing fees and most importantly, the. highest quality care. 

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