Regular Article

The Journal of Behavioral Health Services & Research

, Volume 36, Issue 1, pp 11-24

First online:

Changes in How Health Plans Provide Behavioral Health Services

  • Constance M. HorganAffiliated withInstitute for Behavioral Health, Schneider Institutes for Health Policy, Heller School for Social Policy and Management, Brandeis University Email author 
  • , Deborah W. GarnickAffiliated withInstitute for Behavioral Health, Schneider Institutes for Health Policy, Heller School for Social Policy and Management, Brandeis University
  • , Elizabeth Levy MerrickAffiliated withInstitute for Behavioral Health, Schneider Institutes for Health Policy, Heller School for Social Policy and Management, Brandeis University
  • , Dominic HodgkinAffiliated withInstitute for Behavioral Health, Schneider Institutes for Health Policy, Heller School for Social Policy and Management, Brandeis University

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Abstract

Health plans appear to be moving toward less stringent management, but it is not known whether behavioral health care arrangements mirror the overall trend. To improve access to and quality of behavioral health services, it is critical to track plans’ delivery of these services. This study examined plans’ behavioral health care arrangements and changes over time using a nationally representative health plan survey regarding alcohol, drug abuse, and mental health services in 1999 (N = 434, 92% response) and 2003 (N = 368, 83% response). Findings indicate health plans’ behavioral health service provision changed significantly since 1999, including a large increase in contracting with managed behavioral health care organizations. Some evidence of loosening administrative controls such as prior authorization implies easier access to services. However, increased prevalence of higher levels of cost sharing suggests financial barriers have grown. These changes have important implications for enrollees seeking care and for providers working to meet patients’ needs.

Keywords

behavioral health managed care health plans mental health substance abuse