Consumer / Employer

Health insurance providers assisted growth in behavioral health access, AHIP survey shows

The number of in-network behavioral health providers increased by 48% in the last three years among commercial health plans. The number of in-network inpatient psychiatric hospitals rose by 40%.

Behavioral health access has grown in the last few years, and health insurance providers have facilitated that growth, according to a recent survey by America’s Health Insurance Plans, a health insurance advocacy organization.

The survey featured 14 questions and was distributed to AHIP members offering commercial major medical coverage between May and June. The responses came from 26 health plans covering 122 million commercial enrollees. The survey did not specify how many members AHIP has, but its website lists over 135.

The number of in-network behavioral health providers increased by 48% in the last three years among commercial health plans, to 1,851 providers. Behavioral health specialists include psychiatrists, psychologists, child or adolescent psychiatrists, licensed therapists, psychiatric nurse practitioners and applied behavioral health analysis specialists. All types of behavioral health saw an increase in providers, though it varied. Applied behavioral health specialists had the highest three-year increase, at 135%. The lowest was among psychologists, at 11%.

There are also more providers who are eligible to prescribe medication-assisted treatment, the use of medications combined with counseling and therapy. This has increased by 114% over the last three years.

Not only has the number of providers who are in network increased in the last three years, but the number of behavioral health facilities that are in network also increased, the report found. Inpatient psychiatric hospitals increased by 40% and residential/inpatient treatment facilities increased by 34%.

Along with an increase in providers and health facilities becoming in network for insurers, their payment is also rising. A majority of health plan respondents, or 78%, said they increased reimbursement rates for behavioral health providers.

Here are some additional takeaways from the report:

  • Many health plans said they are intentionally recruiting and retaining diverse behavioral health providers, at 83%.
  • Efforts are also ongoing in improving access to behavioral health. A significant majority of insurers – 83% –  are assisting enrollees with finding available appointments; 83% said they are assisting patients with care navigation and support; 78% said they are using specialized case managers to follow up with patients after emergency and inpatient care.
  • More health insurance providers are taking steps to integrate behavioral health with primary care. This includes 72% of health plans training and supporting primary care providers to care for patients with mild/moderate behavioral health conditions, 72% assisting primary care providers with finding behavioral health specialist referral partners and 56% offering primary care providers telehealth or telephone consults with behavioral health specialists.

“Health insurance providers are taking steps to improve mental health care by proactively identifying behavioral health needs of their members, collaborating with providers, and reducing stigma,” Kate Berry, senior vice president of clinical affairs and strategic partnerships at AHIP, said in a news release. “While a lot of work has been done, health insurance providers recognize the need to address systemic challenges. This can only be accomplished by all health care stakeholders working collaboratively to ensure Americans have affordable access to the high-quality mental health support they deserve.”

Photo: SDI Productions, Getty Images