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Researchers: Programs Neglect Behavioral Health

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Current state health care initiatives are doing too little to help people who suffer from behavioral health disorders.

Researchers at the National Alliance on Mental Illness, Arlington, Va., and the National Council for Community Behavioral Healthcare, Rockville, Md., make that argument in a new paper on how state health coverage initiatives are handling behavioral health issues.

The researchers looked at 18 state initiatives and initiative proposals.

The researchers note that the issue affects private insurers as well as public health finance programs: More than 15% of privately insured adult Americans have a mental illness, addiction disorder, or both.

Behavioral health problems also have a big effect on public and private disability insurance programs.

Mental illness is the leading cause of disability among adults, and addiction is the second leading cause, the researchers report.

But many of the new state efforts to expand access to health coverage neglect behavioral health, the researchers contend.

Although many of the programs require parity between behavioral health and general medical benefits, patients also face problems with the scope of benefits, co-payment levels, prior approval requirements, and shortages of behavioral health professionals, the researchers report.

In addition, few states are including mental illness and addiction disorders in wellness and chronic disease management programs, researchers say.

Benefits for mental illness and addiction disorders vary especially widely for adults in state plans that cover the uninsured, the researchers report.

The researchers say the federal government can and should step in.

“Federal waivers have been a component of reform in approximately 75% of the states with implemented programs, highlighting the critical importance of federal policy in future state health care reform efforts,” the researchers write.