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Katiri Zuluaga

Manager, State Initiatives

BHECON’s 2018 Themes Show Key Issues Faced by State Behavioral Health Associations

November 15, 2018 | Justice | Mental Health | Parity | Workforce | Comments
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The Behavioral Health + Economics Network (BHECON), an initiative led by the National Council, is winding down on its second year of activities. BHECON partners with National Council state provider associations to transform the behavioral health delivery system by increasing their advocacy capacity and breaking down silos that create barriers to services for individuals with serious mental illness and co-occurring conditions. In its second year, BHECON translated the key state issues identified by stakeholders in year one, including mental health parity, workforce and increasing access to behavioral health services, into specific policy solutions in each of the nine states currently participating in the program.

Two key elements of the BHECON program are leveraging data and engaging diverse stakeholders to drive behavioral health system change and improve the lives of individuals living with serious mental illness. In its first year, BHECON partnered with state associations in Connecticut, Illinois, Massachusetts, Missouri, Pennsylvania and Illinois. Through a series of forums, a Consensus Statement was created that  highlighted the key issues related to behavioral healthcare encountered by each of the states and policy solutions for these issues. In year two, BHECON added a new cohort of states – Alaska, Kansas and Minnesota – through a competitive application process and began to focus on advocating for these policy solutions.

In 2018, BHECON state association partners held legislative breakfasts and receptions, committee briefings, candidate forums, member meetings, and provided conference sessions focused on key issues relating to policy changes at the state level that would improve access to evidence-based behavioral health treatment. BHECON supported the creation of coalitions and helped unite stakeholders to amplify these key policy messages across sectors.

2018 BHECON Themes

  • Parity for Behavioral Health Services: Despite federal legislation requiring parity in access and coverage for mental health and addiction treatment, many individuals still face significant barriers to accessing treatment. BHECON states this year highlighted those difficulties directly with policymakers and promoted solutions to address the continued discrepancy between law and practice. Proposed solutions have included stricter monitoring at the state level and increased reporting from insurance plans to better monitor parity implementation.
  • Workforce Shortage: The widespread behavioral health workforce shortage continues to be a pervasive issue for states. BHECON created a fact sheet to overview the extent of the issue nationally and supported multiple states in their efforts to present solutions to their legislators, including increased loan repayment programs, creating partnerships with academic institutions, changing licensure requirements to allow for more bachelor’s level providers to be hired, and initiating workforce recruitment campaigns.
  • Increasing Access to Evidence-Based Treatment: BHECON states placed a heavy emphasis on increasing access to integrated mental health and addiction treatment in their 2018 advocacy efforts. Four of the BHECON partner states are currently engaged in the Certified Community Behavioral Health Clinic (CCBHC) federal demonstration program and shared their data on how CCBHCs not only increase access and improve care for individuals with serious mental illness, but how the model also addresses issues of workforce and engagement with ancillary stakeholders like law enforcement, hospitals and schools.
  • Decreasing Recidivism and Diverting Individuals to Treatment: Individuals with serious mental illness or substance use disorder are more likely to come in contact with the criminal justice system. BHECON created a fact sheet overviewing the prevalence of this issue and states advocated for increased investment in diversion and reentry programs to ensure that serious mental illness is not treated with a jail sentence.

BHECON is excited to continue the progress in 2018 by focusing its advocacy efforts in 2019 on continuing to move innovative policy change at the state level supported by data. An overview of events sponsored by BHECON as well as resources created for the project can be found on bhecon.org. BHECON is made possible by generous grants from Alkermes, Genoa and the New York Community Trust.