Aetna, Blues plans expand mental health access

The interim final rule implementing the Mental Health Parity and Addiction Equity Act (MHPAEA) of 2008 went into effect April 5, but insurers aren't stopping at ensuring pricing parity for mental health and substance abuse benefits for large-group health plan enrollees. Insurers also are implementing tools to ensure that all plan members have adequate access to treatment for mental health services.

In Blue Bell, Pa., Aetna has initiated a pilot program with Delaware County Professional Services to educate primary-care physicians to identify patients with mental health issues and guide them to appropriate services, reports the Philadelphia Business Journal. Aetna members with chronic medical conditions such as high blood pressure, diabetes and heart disease could particularly benefit from mental health services.

"It's harder for that group with behavioral health disorders and chronic health conditions to make lifestyle changes, and harder for them to stick to treatment regimens for their chronic illnesses," says Dr. Hyong Un, chief psychiatric officer for Aetna Behavioral Health. "The problem is behavioral health disorders are often underdiagnosed and undertreated. We expect this program to increase the likelihood for continued treatment and earlier intervention, which will help our members improve their overall health and quality of life."

The pilot is up and running at four area primary-care practices, and two additional local sites will soon join. Aetna expects to assess the results of the pilot in early 2011, but the insurer already is considering expanding the pilot to practice sites in Ohio and Texas later this year.

In New York, BlueCross BlueShield of Western New York and sister company BlueShield of Northeastern New York have launched the telephone-based Physician Behavioral Health Support Line for affiliated primary-care providers treating patients with behavioral health conditions, reports Business First of Buffalo. The support line, provided in conjunction with Tampa, Fla.-based health management company Health Integrated, is staffed with Health Integrated's board-certified psychiatrists and available 24 hours a day, seven days a week, effective April 15. The goal of the new service is to provide primary-care physicians with "deeper support and resources to increase their knowledge and expertise with the latest developments in behavioral health medications and available therapies," says Karen Blount, vice president of healthcare services. Both Blues plans are divisions of Buffalo-based HealthNow New York Inc.

 To learn more about the MHPAEA regulations:
- read this Center for Medicare Advocacy article
- visit this Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services webpage

To learn more about the Aetna pilot:
- read this Philadelphia Business Journal article

To find out more about the New York Blues support line:
- read this Business First of Buffalo article
- read this press release 

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