Affordable Care Act · behavioral health integration · health care reform · Integrated Care

Historic Parity Ruling Provided at Long Last

“We know so much more today, and yet the problems are still very much the same, with one exception: Recovery.  Twenty five years ago, we did not dream that people might someday be able actually to recover from mental illnesses.  Today it is a very real possibility.”  ~Former First Lady Rosalynn Carter

History was made today at the Carter Center in Atlanta. Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius made a long-awaited announcement at the 29th Annual Rosalynn Carter Mental Health Policy SymposiumHealth insurance companies must cover mental illness and substance abuse just as they cover physical diseases. Secretary Sebelius’s speech  may be read here in its entirety.

In 2008, Congress passed the Paul Wellstone and Pete Domenici Mental Health Parity and Addiction Equity Act, marking an important step forward in efforts to end discrimination in insurance coverage for mental health and substance use disorder treatment. While the act closed several loopholes left by the 1996 Mental Health Parity Act, it has taken five years to finalize the law. The 2008 act lacked clarity on how parity is to be achieved, particularly when treatment involves intensive care at physician offices or long-term hospital stays.

Today’s ruling provides clarification on how parity applies to residential treatments and outpatient care. It also ensures that copayments, deductibles, and limits on mental health benefits are not more restrictive or provide less coverage than those for medical and surgical benefits, including geographic or facility limitations. These have been tremendous barriers to treatment thus far and represent a significant triumph for the behavioral health community.

“This is the largest expansion of behavioral health coverage in a generation,” declared Secretary Sebelius. Addressing the need for adequate care for mental health has been a goal for more than 50 years, when President John F. Kennedy signed the Community Mental Health Center Act of 1963 into law.

At long last, treatment for behavioral health disorders is regarded as equal to other types of healthcare. This represents a significant achievement in behavioral health and should contribute to the ongoing effort to reduce the stigma. Millions fail to follow up with needed treatment because of stigma. With this final ruling and with movement toward integrated care, we will finally be able to improve access.

What will the world be like when people begin to actually receive that needed treatment?

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Affordable Care Act · behavioral health integration · healthcare integration · mental health

The Role of Integrated Care in Mental Health: Mental Health Blog Day 2013

Blog for MH 2013

I’m happy to be participating in blogging for mental health today. I’m joining in on this year’s blog party because mental health awareness is so important. Each mental health blogger has a unique perspective, addressing important topics such as awareness, recovery, wellness, public policy, services, co-occurring mental health and substance use disorders, etc., providing a personal, professional, or business perspective – or any combination of the three. These interesting and informative mental health blogs will provide an abundance of good reading for blog connoisseurs today!

Integrated care, a whole-health approach to healthcare, plays a very important role in mental health. This perspective has been gaining more and more attention over the past decade or so. It is not uncommon for people who receive mental health treatment to have little or no coordination of services with their primary care provider. Conversely, many people seeking primary care services have unmet mental health and/or substance use disorder treatment needs. This lack of coordination frequently results in sub-par outcomes, yet is often much more expensive as a result of duplicate or counter-indicated procedures and treatment. Lack of coordination results in costly emergency department visits, providing episodic treatment rather than a much more effective chronic care regimen and focus on prevention.

In my last post, I suggested that Integrated Care Awareness Day be recognized during Mental Health Month. As we increase awareness of the need to focus on healthcare in a holistic way, we begin to change the perception of mental health, not only for healthcare providers and policy-makers, but also for the public at large. Through improving access to services, controlling healthcare costs, and through tracking and improving health outcomes, we as a society can transition toward a wellness approach in healthcare.

Access to Services

Stigma is a huge barrier to receiving mental health services. Integrated care allows people to access services through mental health providers or primary care providers. They have the choice to receive mental health services where they are most comfortable.

Controlling Healthcare Costs

Coordination of care and focus on prevention help to control overall healthcare spending. The Affordable Care Act has provided the opportunity for changing the way that healthcare is delivered. Medicaid Health Homes are an example of this.

Improving Health Outcomes

Making use of health information technology enables providers to track outcomes, develop disease registries, and to share information for enhancing the coordination of care. As a result, people have improved health outcomes. They are healthier.

I hope you will stop by again soon. The next several posts to come will be a Thought Leader Series, a conversation with the visionary leaders who are instrumental in developing integrated care through research, policy, practice, and their steadfast passion for improving the lives of so many.

Happy Mental Health Blog Day 2013!

Affordable Care Act · behavioral health integration · mental health

May is National Mental Health Awareness Month: Let’s Include Integrated Care Awareness Day

On 4/30/2013, President Obama became the first president to sign a proclamation declaring May as National Mental Health Awareness Month. “As a nation, it is up to all of us to know the signs of mental health issues and lend a hand to those who are struggling,” he said. “Shame and stigma too often leave people feeling like there is no place to turn. We need to make sure they know that asking for help is not a sign of weakness—it is a sign of strength.” (Click here for a full copy of the Presidential Proclamation – National Mental Health Awareness Month, 2013.) This endorsement and recognition are important steps toward acceptance of mental health. However, mental health and physical health are inseparable. And as more healthcare providers provide integrated services, issues of shame and stigma are reduced, thus creating an environment in which asking for help becomes less difficult. The Affordable Care Act has provided numerous opportunities for the integration of behavioral health and primary healthcare.

Mental Health Awareness Month began in 1949 through the vision of Mental Health America to raise awareness about mental illness and the need for services. This year’s theme is Pathways to Wellness:

Key Messages

  1. Wellness – it’s essential to living a full and productive life. It’s about keeping healthy as well as getting healthy.
  2. Wellness involves a set of skills and strategies that prevent the onset or shorten the duration of illness and promote recovery and well-being. Wellness is more than just the absence of disease.
  3. Wellness is more than an absence of disease. It involves complete general, mental and social well-being. And mental health is an essential component of overall health and well-being. The fact is our overall well-being is tied to the balance that exists between our emotional, physical, spiritual and mental health.
  4. Whatever our situation, we are all at risk of stress given the demands of daily life and the challenges it brings-at home, at work and in life. Steps that build and maintain well-being and help us all achieve wellness involve a balanced diet, regular exercise, enough sleep, a sense of self-worth, development of coping skills that promote resiliency, emotional awareness, and connections to family, friends and community.
  5. These steps should be complemented by taking stock of one’s well-being through regular mental health checkups and screenings. Just as we check our blood pressure and get cancer screenings, it’s a good idea to take periodic reading of our emotional well-being.
  6. Fully embracing the concept of wellness not only improves health in the mind, body and spirit, but also maximizes one’s potential to lead a full and productive life. Using strategies that promote resiliency and strengthen mental health and prevent mental health and substance use conditions lead to improved general health and a healthier society: greater academic achievement by our children, a more productive economy, and families that stay together.

As we focus on the importance of good mental health, it’s also an opportune time for increasing awareness of the importance of focusing on whole health rather than segregating mental health and substance use disorder issues. Contrary to popular belief, mental health services are largely provided outside of the mental health system. According to the Milbank Memorial Fund report, Evolving Models of Behavioral Health Integration in Primary Care, as many as 70 percent of primary care visits stem from psychosocial issues. While patients typically present with a physical health complaint, data suggest that underlying mental health or substance abuse issues are often triggering these visits.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report, Mental Illness Surveillance Among Adults in the United States Supplements 9/2/11 – 60(03);1-32:

Mental illness exacerbates morbidity from the multiple chronic diseases with which it is associated, including cardiovascular disease, diabetes, obesity, asthma, epilepsy, and cancer (12–16). This increased morbidity is a result of lower use of medical care and treatment adherence for concurrent chronic diseases and higher risk for adverse health outcomes (17–20). Rates for injuries, both intentional (e.g., homicide and suicide) and unintentional (e.g., motor vehicle), are 2–6 times higher among persons with a mental illness than in the overall population (21,22). Mental illness also is associated with use of tobacco products and alcohol abuse (23).

May has 31 days, so perhaps we can designate one of the days in May as Integrated Care Awareness Day. A day set aside to bring awareness of the benefits of looking at one’s health as a whole rather than segregating mental health from physical health. With this year’s theme, Pathways to Wellness, it is an ideal time to increase awareness.

“The body must be treated as a whole and not just a series of parts.”
– Hippocrates (460 BC – 380 BC)

Affordable Care Act · behavioral health integration

Behavioral Health Homes

In the midst of talk of healthcare reform, it is apparent that the face of healthcare is undergoing numerous changes from the traditional delivery system. Accountable Care Organizations and other collaborative efforts are proving to be viable solutions for addressing the gaps within healthcare, providing a glimpse of its future structure. Efforts are underway across the nation (and internationally) to integrate behavioral health and primary services within the ACOs as well as between community behavioral health and primary care providers.

The Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act has created a health home option in Medicaid for treatment of chronic conditions. Thus, the concept of the health home was created, with incentives in place for a more holistic approach to healthcare in an attempt to improve quality of care, contain or reduce costs, and improve outcomes. With behavioral health conditions meeting the established criteria for chronic conditions, behavioral health homes are the ideal solution for meeting the needs of people with serious behavioral health disorders who have not traditionally accessed healthcare on an ongoing basis. While the majority of information circulating regarding healthcare integration is related to integrating behavioral health into a primary care setting, it’s a mistake to assume that primary care will absorb all behavioral health services. Specialty behavioral healthcare plays a distinct and important role within healthcare. Individuals with serious mental illnesses historically receive the majority of their services in community behavioral health settings. Many prefer to receive their primary care services within this setting as well for a variety of reasons. Primary care, in its typical current structure, would require significant modifications to take on the added line of business. Many organizations have successfully managed this, with Cherokee Health Systems leading the way for decades. However, primary care clinics that are not prepared nor inclined to follow this model may defer to the Behavioral Health Home.

What is a Behavioral Health Home?

First, let’s talk about what it is not. It is not a group home or nursing home. It is not a physical structure meant to house those in need of behavioral health services. The behavioral health home is a behavioral health organization that serves as a health home for people with mental health and substance use disorders.

Behavioral Health Homes for People with Mental Health and Substance Use Conditions prepared by Dr. Benjamin Druss and Dr. Laurie Alexander for the SAMHSA-HRSA Center for Integrated Health Solutions provides a thorough overview and guidance for establishing the behavioral health home. This document provides practical information for providers in their efforts to provide a more comprehensive delivery system to address the triple aim of healthcare. Behavioral Health Homes for People with Mental Health and Substance Use Conditions is an excellent resource and a must-read for providers in their efforts toward transitioning their organizations into a behavioral health home.

Affordable Care Act · health care reform · healthcare integration

Health Care Reform: The Affordable Care Act and Healthcare Integration

The Supreme Court decision on June 28, 2012, delivered approximately 10:15am EDT, is a boon for healthcare integration. (Though it was scary there for a few minutes when certain hasty, overanxious members of the media provided the wrong results!)

For the past few years, community behavioral health and primary care organizations have been working collaboratively to provide services for the people they serve, diligently trying to create the perfect formula for doing what is best for the healthcare needs of the people they serve, while at the same time striving to remain financially solvent. And they have done a remarkable job! But it isn’t easy…nor have their outcomes always been ideal, largely due to limited resources. Certainly not for lack of trying!

These benevolent community providers are charged with serving the most in need. This does not always translate into being adequately compensated for their efforts, however. While some have been forced to limit their services, most have managed to avoid rationing thus far through their persistence in seeking alternatives, such as creating referral agreements, co-locating, full integration, and with grant funding. In addition, many have engaged in advocating for change at the local, state, and national levels. These tenacious providers recognize that an unwavering focus on the mission is the foundation for success.

With the newly upheld Affordable Care Act, more people will have access to healthcare coverage and will not be rejected because of pre-existing conditions. Also, for the states that don’t opt out of the new Medicaid expansion, all residents below the 133 percent of the poverty line will be eligible for Medicaid coverage. Therefore, more of the people served by community providers who were previously uninsured will have healthcare coverage. This will allow the providers to be compensated for more of the services they provide, thus supporting the mission.

The ACA doesn’t provide all the answers but it is a move in the right direction. Politics aside, our healthcare system isn’t working the way it is. We need major changes. We already know that integrating behavioral health and primary care services is more economical and provides improved health outcomes. Through these health homes, individual care is coordinated. That just makes sense.  The health home approach translates into better care for fewer healthcare dollars. This is a perfect opportunity to build on a successful model.

Read the AMA Commentary by Dr. Jeremy Lazarus, AMA president, on the benefits of the ACA on healthcare integration.

With our newly upheld Accountable Care Act at the cusp of our nation’s 236th birthday, it’s a perfect time to pull together and focus on building a system that allows us to provide effective services to meet the total healthcare needs of people with behavioral health concerns in this, the land of the free and the home of the (soon t0 be) healthy.