Physician Groups Issue Call to Accelerate Behavioral Health Integration

Physician organizations are working to accelerate the integration of behavioral health services into primary care settings and close the unmet need for mental health services and substance use disorder treatment, but physicians cannot solve the crisis on their own. A new call-to-action from eight of the nation’s leading physician organizations urges a unified and collective effort by stakeholders across the health care system to support equitable, whole-person care for patients and their families.

“Even with a clear recognition that our primary care systems must urgently embrace a paradigm shift to stem the growing behavioral health crisis, there remain significant challenges in building clinical pathways that provide whole person care,” said AMA Immediate Past President Gerald E. Hamon, M.D., co-author of the call-to-action. “These challenges cannot be overcome by physicians alone, and we are calling on payers and policymakers, among other industry stakeholders, to rally around a set of key solutions in partnership with physicians.”

The call-to-action, published today in Health Affairs, urges payers and policy makers to join forces with physicians and “act now to implement solutions and ensure primary care physicians and their care teams have the support to provide equitable, whole-person care for their patients and families.”

For employers, health plans and other payers in the health care system, the call-to-action outlines five solutions to accelerate widespread adoption of behavioral health integration (BHI) by primary care practices:

  1. Expand coverage and fair payment for all stakeholders utilizing BHI models;
  2. Evaluate how and when to apply cost-sharing for integrated services (whether delivered in person or via telehealth);
  3. Assist primary care practices by offering technical support, provider training and regional sharing of resources;
  4. Minimize and/or eliminate utilization management practices for BHI services; and
  5. Launch whole-person, employer-based behavioral health programs with intentional culture-focused work to destigmatize behavioral health.

Federal and state policymakers can also support widespread adoption of BHI by primary care practices and the call-to-action outlines four critical steps:

  1. Provide long-term sustainable funding opportunities for training and education on implementing BHI services;
  2. Raise payment levels for BHI services for all stakeholders in federal and state coverage programs;
  3. Work with health plans and coverage programs to limit utilization management review practices, enforce behavioral health parity laws, and strengthen network adequacy regulations; and
  4. Increase federal funding with the aim of growing the behavioral health workforce especially for those who practice in underserved areas.

Physician organizations are committed to accessible and equitable treatment for behavioral, mental and physical health needs, and in 2020 established the BHI Collaborative incorporating the collective expertise of the American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry, American Academy of Family Physicians, American Academy of Pediatrics, American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, American College of Physicians, American Medical Association, American Osteopathic Association, and American Psychiatric Association.

The work of the BHI Collaborative helps physicians navigate and succeed in a continually evolving health care environment with proven resources for implementing a holistic approach to physical, mental and behavioral health that meet the critical needs of all patients.

AMA, American Medical Association, behavioral health

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