Physician groups issue 'urgent' call-to-action on primary care behavioral health integration

Eight of the nation's leading physician organizations published an "urgent" plea for a unified and collective effort by stakeholders across the healthcare system to support integration of mental health services, Health Affairs reported July 6.

"These [behavioral healthcare] 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," Gerald Hamon, MD, American Medical Association Immediate past president and co-author of the call to action, told Health Affairs.

The AMA outlines five ways to accelerate widespread adoption of behavioral health integration by primary care practices:

  1. Expand coverage and fair payment for all stakeholders using behavioral health integration 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 behavioral health integrationservices. 
  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 behavioral health integration by primary care practices. These four critical steps were outlined:

  1. Provide long-term sustainable funding opportunities for training and education on implementing behavioral health services.
  2. Raise payment levels for behavioral health integration 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.
  4. Increase federal funding with the aim of growing the behavioral health workforce, especially for those who practice in underserved areas.

Behavioral health integration helps physicians properly implement a holistic approach to physical and mental health that meets the critical needs of all patients.

Statements from each organization involved can be found here.

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