Integrating behavioral, primary care doesn't raise costs, study finds

Integrating behavioral health with primary care is cost neutral, a study from Independence Blue Cross and Philadelphia-based Penn Medicine found. 

The study, published Oct. 13 in the American Journal of Managed Care, analyzed costs for 825 Independence Blue Cross commercial and Medicare members who received collaborative primary and mental healthcare at eight Penn Medicine locations. 

The collaborative care services model was created by CMS in 2017 to allow primary care providers to bill for mental healthcare delivered in collaboration with a behavioral healthcare manager and a psychiatric consultant. Previous research has determined the model to be effective, especially for treating depression and anxiety. 

Compared to control groups not in the model, patients receiving collaborative care had higher medical costs in the first three months in the program; then total costs began to decline, falling below the control group's cost by month seven. 

Members who received integrated care had $29.35 lower total medical costs per member per month than members who did not, a nonsignificant reduction in cost. 

The researchers wrote the findings should reassure insurers that integrated care improves behavioral health outcomes without increasing costs. 

"Although we did not see explicit evidence of cost savings, we observed that the … program did not lead to an increase in cost (i.e., the program is cost neutral) despite the provision of mental health services," the researchers wrote. 

Read the full study here. 

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