HCN News & Notes

AMA Seeks to Better Serve Patients with Multiple Healthcare Needs

CHICAGO — Because the delivery of healthcare is increasingly becoming more integrated to better serve patients with multiple care needs, the American Medical Assoc. (AMA) recently passed new policy that seeks to increase access to and coverage of integrated medical and behavioral-healthcare services for patients.

“There is an increased recognition that the health of an individual includes both physical and behavioral components that should be treated holistically,” said Dr. Mary Anne McCaffree. “Since a high prevalence of people with behavioral-health disorders are seen by primary-care physicians, it’s imperative that we remove any barriers that impede patient access to integrated care services on the same day or in the same setting if they need it.”

Currently, less than half of the 43 million adults identified with a mental illness and the 6 million children identified as suffering from an emotional, behavioral, or developmental issue receive treatment. A key barrier to the lack of care among these individuals is cost. Treating people with physical and behavioral health conditions can be two to three times higher than caring for those without co-morbid conditions. Yet research shows that coordinated care management of mental and physical health conditions can greatly improve health outcomes and could save more than $48 billion annually in general healthcare costs.

“It’s critical that children and adults have access to the care they need at the right time and in the right setting,” said McCaffree. “If we don’t take the necessary steps to ensure that integrated physical and behavioral healthcare is provided as early as possible, the lack of comprehensive services will continue to have devastating consequences for these individuals and the health of our society.”

The new policy calls on the AMA to encourage Medicaid and private health insurers to pay for physical and behavioral healthcare services provided on the same day. The AMA will also encourage state Medicaid programs to amend plans as needed to include payment for behavioral healthcare services in school settings in order to identify and treat behavioral-health conditions as early as possible.

“We also want practicing physicians to seek out continuing-medical-education opportunities on integrated physical and behavioral care,” said McCaffree. “We believe that, with knowledge of these various approaches, physician practices will be better-positioned to choose the best integrated treatment options to meet the needs of their patients.”