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Dive Brief:

  • The HHS released an issue brief detailing its “Roadmap for Behavioral Health Integration” intended to better incorporate mental health and substance use care into the larger healthcare system. The roadmap includes feedback HHS Secretary Xavier Becerra received from patients and providers during a recent national tour.
  • The plan would coordinate behavioral healthcare with social service and early childhood systems, with a focus on improving equitable access. The roadmap’s initiatives will be advanced alongside other efforts underway to address the nation’s mental health crisis, including the agency’s overdose prevention strategy and the new 988 crisis hotline, the HHS said.
  • The HHS roadmap builds on President Joe Biden’s plan for strengthening behavioral healthcare that includes building up system capacity, connecting Americans to care by leveraging health financing arrangements and investing in health promotion, prevention and recovery efforts.

Dive Insight:

Biden identified the country’s worsening mental health crisis as a top national priority during his State of the Union address this year. Nearly 53 million Americans in 2020 were affected by mental illness, and substance use disorders affected 15% of U.S. adults, according to the HHS.

The COVID-19 pandemic compounded the crisis, with a rising rate of overdose deaths and an increase in self-reported symptoms of anxiety, the HHS said. Yet utilization of mental health and substance use disorder services fell sharply at the beginning of the pandemic and has been slower to rebound than other types of healthcare, the report said.

The roadmap places a priority on integrating behavioral care into broader healthcare and social systems in a coordinated way. The strategy aims to include behavioral health services not only in primary care settings, but in specialty areas such as OB/GYN care and in educational and early childhood settings.

To strengthen system capacity, the HHS said it has identified opportunities to build a more diverse workforce prepared to practice in integrated settings. Examples of new investments in infrastructure to support behavioral health integration include the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration’s Minority Fellowship Program and the Health Resources and Services Administration’s $155 million initiative to fund primary care medical residency programs that include psychiatry residents.

The HHS said it has identified opportunities to make behavioral health services more affordable for Medicare and Medicaid beneficiaries, noting that inability to afford care was the most commonly cited reason for patients not receiving mental health services in a 2020 survey.

The department is also working to expand outreach efforts targeting high-risk populations and to integrate prevention programs into community-based settings such as schools, where more children can be reached.

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