At our Spring All Council Conference last week, we brought together leaders working to integrate mental health and primary care. Integrating care has always been a goal for the Quality Institute, and the need is even greater now with the post-pandemic demand for mental health services in addition to people catching up on unmet physical health and preventive care.
We know that integrated care offers the opportunity to assess a person’s overall needs and to provide more effective care. At the conference, we outlined the current integrated licensing delays, work force shortage, the lack of diversity among clinicians, and payment barriers. At the same time, we recognized the current work moving forward to address these barriers.
It was good to hear from experts such as Roy Leitstein, CEO of Legacy Treatment Services, who pointed out that despite traditional stigma surrounding mental health and seeking out treatment, younger generations are more comfortable discussing their mental health challenges and are more informed about mental health needs. Asserting that stigma will be further addressed through integrated care, he shared that, “the answer to ending the stigma around mental health is for us to embed behavioral health in primary care offices and for us to talk about it and for docs to ask their patients how they are feeling.”
John Jacobi, JD, Professor of Health Law at Seton Hall University, shared the legislative and regulatory history and status in New Jersey whereby larger organizations, hospital systems, or federally qualified health centers have been able to obtain special approval, or multiple licenses to deliver integrated care, or offer integrated care but not bill for it. Today we are still waiting on regulations for an integrated license for others, a lag that makes it more difficult for integrated care to be a widespread practice in New Jersey.
Chris Barton, LCSW, Senior Director, Horizon BCBSNJ, and LeAnn DiBenedetto, LCSW, Program Director, Acenda, both explained the benefits of the payment changes coming to NJ Family Care whereby physical health and behavioral health will be paid for by the same payer. With Leann commenting that, “if a Medicaid managed care organization is paying for physical health and the State is paying for behavioral health, there’s challenges to bridging those pieces. We need to incentivize the creation of innovative payment systems and integrated models of care that unite physical health and behavioral health. … just as our bodies are united in one physical system.”
As we continue to look for ways to support greater integration of care, please reach out to us with your related suggestions and concerns.