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Brandeis University undertakes third national survey of health plans' behavioral health services

Waltham, MABrandeis University is launching two surveys of the nation's private health plans to assess how recent legislation affects quality of and consumer access to behavioral health services. Both the federal parity law and national health reform are likely to affect behavioral health care. The Brandeis 2010 and 2012 Health Plan Surveys, latest in a series begun in 1999, will track trends in how alcohol, drug abuse, and mental health services are provided for the more than 200 million privately insured individuals.

"Health plan decisions can dramatically affect the lives of people with substance abuse and mental health conditions. Now that behavioral health benefits are required to be on par with medical benefits, this survey will provide timely and important information in a field that is undergoing rapid change," said Principal Investigator Constance Horgan, director of the Institute for Behavioral Health at the Heller School. The survey will provide detailed information on how health plan changes are affecting consumers. It will examine many factors important to consumers including ease of access to behavioral health care, consumer cost sharing, and health plans' involvement in improving the health of members.

The 2010 survey will examine health plans' initial implementation of the new federal parity law and will also explore the growing role of information technology, expansion of wellness programs, use of incentives for performance and quality, and the integration of substance abuse and mental health treatment into primary care. The survey will also track changes in a broad range of domains examined in prior rounds, including screening in primary care, treatment approaches, provider payment and risk sharing, benefit design, and utilization management techniques. The 2012 survey will provide more detailed information about how health plans change services after the final parity regulations, due out shortly, go into effect.

The team of behavioral health researchers at the Heller School for Social Policy and Management at Brandeis conducted two similar surveys, in 1999 and in 2003. The new set of surveys will build on earlier efforts, to provide a current picture of the complex and changing organization of behavioral health services in private health plans in sixty markets nationwide. The information will be collected through telephone surveys of executive and medical directors of health plans and will address major products that cover most of the privately insured: health maintenance organizations (HMOs); point-of-service plans (POSs); preferred provider organizations (PPOs), and consumer-driven plans.

Survey information will be available in 2011 and will be highly useful to policy-makers tracking implementation under new rules and regulations, consumer advocacy groups, and health plan executives interested in learning how other plans are delivering services and complying with the new laws.

"The federal parity law in combination with national health care reform has the potential to transform delivery of behavioral health services. We anticipate many changes in health plan benefits and in the tools plans use to manage behavioral health benefits as a result of these federal laws," said Dr. Horgan.


Contact: Laura Gardner
Brandeis University

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