Bridging The Gap Between Behavioral And Primary Health Care For Low-Income Patients

Bridging the divide between behavioral and primary health care not only makes sense, it’s what patients want. Recent Blue Shield of California Foundation research reveals that low-income patients prefer to receive behavioral health services in the same setting as they receive their primary care. It also shows that a broad gap still exists between need and available treatment. Among low-income Californians who have needed to discuss a behavioral health issue with a provider in the past year, only half of them have been able to do so, according to the foundation’s survey report, published in March 2015.

Our state’s safety net couldn’t be better positioned to change this reality. Since California opted to expand Medi-Cal (the state’s Medicaid program), hundreds of thousands of residents now have access to mental health and substance use benefits—many for the first time. This means that families and individuals who have struggled with behavioral health problems for years can finally get help.

Unfortunately, our current system doesn’t have the capacity to respond to the needs of this growing patient population, and separate reimbursement streams for behavioral and primary care continue to stymie care coordination and information sharing across providers. To make it easier to access mental health and substance use treatment, and deliver the type of care that low-income patients need and want, we must integrate and reshape our existing systems of care.

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