With COVID-19 cases on the rise, significant behavioral health treatment needs and access barriers remain major threats to overall health and taxpayer dollars.
It is widely recognized that the lack of access to behavioral health treatment results in increased medical costs, as individuals frequent the emergency department and the hospital.
Out of 29 studies reviewed by the Government Accountability Office that compare healthcare costs associated with behavioral health treatment, nearly 70% found higher healthcare costs associated with untreated adults.
However, lack of access to behavioral health services can also affect our criminal justice, child welfare, and housing systems.
While the traditional healthcare sector is directly impacted, other state and local systems will ultimately reap the consequences as quality of life is diminished for individuals and their families.
Law enforcement and criminal justice systemsAlthough the reasons behind this are complex, people with serious mental illness (SMI) are overrepresented in the justice system. Research suggests that the COVID-19 pandemic can contribute to the exacerbation of symptoms among those with SMI, which can lead to individuals experiencing mental health crises. When people experience a mental health crisis, they are more likely to encounter police than seek out medical help, and this may lead to increased law enforcement and criminal justice costs.
When considering the types of downstream cost impacts that are tied to lack of needed treatment, it’s more important than ever to invest in appropriate access to comprehensive behavioral health services and community engagement activities. Supporting appropriate access to behavioral health treatment will have a positive return on investment over the long-term.
As the COVID-19 pandemic continues, it is also important for states to increase attention on the quality of behavioral health services.
Key to this is identifying the most meaningful behavioral health-related performance measures and making necessary updates to track, report, and analyze ongoing behavioral health quality improvement activities.
1. Monitor key behavioral health-related performance measures
The Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) 2020 Core Set of Behavioral Health Measures can help states gauge trends in behavioral health treatment and identify where more attention is needed, including measures such as:
2. Encourage providers to track and report population health metrics
To effectively monitor the progress of individuals needing behavioral health services over time, it’s important to work with providers to track ongoing activities. For example, in addition to monitoring the level of screening for depression, providers can monitor average actual PHQ-9 depression scores to determine if scores are improving as a result of their interventions with their patient population.
3. Assess healthcare-related strategies to account for COVID-19 impacts
Suicidal ideation, for instance, is increasing with the pandemic and there is an opportunity to review state suicide prevention strategies to consider:
With COVID-19 cases on the rise, significant behavioral health treatment needs and access barriers remain major threats to overall health and taxpayer dollars. Action from states is urgently needed to ensure appropriate providers and services are available to meet increased demand and mitigate the cost and quality impacts to healthcare and other social service systems.
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