21st Century Cures is a step in the right direction for behavioral health

August 30, 2017

Often considered the social outcast of healthcare, behavioral health has long struggled to obtain legitimacy in the eyes of the general medical community. But with more than 60 million Americans effected every year from mental illness, something has to change.

Often considered the social outcast of healthcare, behavioral health has long struggled to obtain legitimacy in the eyes of the general medical community. But with more than 60 million Americans effected every year from mental illness, something has to change.

 

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The 21st Century Cures Act is widely touted as a major win for behavioral health advocacy and better clinical outcomes. Given the overwhelming acceptance in Congress (94 in favor to 5 opposed in the Senate and 392 in favor to 26 opposed in the House of Representatives), it’s evident that even the staunchest of political opponents sees the importance of the act.

The law is far from perfect, with only a fraction of the funds going to behavioral health, but the Cures Act is a significant step in the right direction for the mental health community to be more accepted as a part of whole patient healthcare.

Finally, An Advocate in Government

In the past, government has rarely taken a definitive stand for the mental health community. One of the most prominent actions taken came in the form of The Mental Health Parity and Addiction Equality Act of 2008 (MHPAEA)-a federal law that ensured group health plans would offer similar benefits compared to those of medical or surgical benefits.

 

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While this was the first step to bringing mental health to the same kind of level as the rest of the medical world, the Cures Act represents an important building block upon MHPAEA as it establishes the addition of a leader in government focused solely on behavioral health issues-an assistant secretary for mental health and substance abuse. This person will head the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), which will “lead public health efforts to advance the behavioral health of the nation.”[1] Additionally, there will be the creation of a chief medical officer within SAMHSA to assist with program creation and development.

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The creation of these new positions will provide fresh opportunities for the mental health community to move to the forefront of medical legislation and receive the significant attention it so desperately needs.

 

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These appointments will be responsible for disseminating the most successful approaches to treating mental illness and how the government can best fill its role to ease access to proper mental health care. Most importantly, they will also be a central advocate for the field and for behavior health patients themselves.

Greater Interoperability Represents More Seamless Integration

Governmental representation is a significant benefit of the Cures Act, but the much-needed law also addresses high-level issues such as the lack of interoperability that is so common throughout healthcare technology.

Achieving interoperability, which has been the ultimate aim of any health care program introduced in recent years, seems to be easier said than done. Regardless, the Cures Act is one of the latest attempts to encourage greater interoperability between health technology and to discourage information blocking so that patient care can be more effectively coordinated.

Vendors found to be information blocking could be fined as much as $1 million per violation. In other words, interoperability no longer seems voluntary.

The act does not specifically call out behavioral health practices in this provision, but the emphasis on industry-wide interoperability will no doubt help these practices integrate into the broader medical community and ensure an easier transition.

 

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With greater integration between behavioral health practices and the general medical community, it will also likely expose these practices to the same regulations that broader practices experience, such as Medical Access and CHIP Reauthorization Act (MACRA). As a result, behavioral health practices should be prepared for these changes in the future as they could have a significant impact on how mental health providers and practices are reimbursed.

Next: Furthering legitimacy in care coordination

 

Furthering Behavioral Health’s Legitimacy in Care Coordination

The Cures Act could bring along positive change in a variety of ways to both the mental health and broader medical communities. However, for behavioral health, the act successfully provides much-needed attention to the mental health issues within the country and represents a positive sign that it’s slowly being more accepted as a critical part of whole-patient health care.

 

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Advocates on both sides of the table (primary care/general and behavioral health practitioners) have long argued that an increase in fully integrating mental health services into a patient’s care team will yield significant cost and quality benefits.

The Cures Act, along with other parity and reimbursement laws, such as Medicare’s Chronic Care Management, will continue this push to include behavioral health practitioners into the care team. Aspects such as reimbursements for behavioral health providers are still in limbo, but their inclusion in care coordination teams will be a significant step forward in establishing the legitimacy of the behavioral health community throughout the industry.

Patients Are the Real Winners in the Cures Act

The 21st Century Cures Act signifies a positive development for behavioral health in the United States, but the progress can’t stop with this law. Behavioral health providers can further its impact by thoroughly understanding how they can advance their role in their patients’ overall health.

 

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Not only do they need to be advocates for their role, but they should prepare to adhere to the same standards as the general medical community. With proper preparation, the behavioral health sector will have a more seamless integration across the industry, benefiting the providers and most importantly-the patients.

 

Charlie Hutchinson is the chief financial officer of InSync Healthcare, a provider of solutions for behavioral health and primary care practices.

 

[1] Hall & Render: “The 21st Century Cures Act Reforms to the Mental Health System