The Behavioral Health + Economics Network, known as BHECON (pronounced “beacon”) unites diverse stakeholders to examine and advance policy reforms that strengthen states’ behavioral health delivery systems. Led by the National Council for Mental Wellbeing, along with state associations of behavioral health providers, BHECON builds capacity for increased advocacy at the state level to improve the lives of individuals living with serious mental illness through legislative or regulatory action.

Through a series of community events, BHECON engages individuals, providers, legislators, criminal justice officials, advocacy organizations, primary care providers and organizations and others who are economically impacted by the lack of access to needed behavioral health services to engage in problem-solving and leverage health economic data to drive policy change.

BHECON also maintains the Research Hub, a central repository for health economic data and research on the total costs of untreated mental illness, along with other important topics related to access to care. BHECON partnered with the Leonard D. Schaeffer Center for Health Policy and Economics at the University of Southern California to aggregate data on the state of behavioral health in each of the participating states. Comprehensive, state-specific behavioral health data chartbooks are developed for participating states and that data is used to create advocacy materials showing the return on investment and potential cost savings of fully funded behavioral health services.

Year 1: In 2016-2017, BHECON partnered with five states – Connecticut, Illinois, Massachusetts, Missouri and Pennsylvania – to host a series of widely-attended forums examining behavioral health delivery system challenges and policy solutions. This generated a Consensus Statement on State Policy Reform summarizing the policy issues that were identified and require legislative or regulatory action, plus the recommended changes that would help improve their residents’ access to timely, high-quality mental health and addiction care.

The Statement, endorsed by state association partners in each of the five Cohort 1 states, addresses such critical issues as the nexus between the behavioral health and criminal justice systems, the chronic behavioral health workforce shortage and the investment in evidence-based behavioral health treatment. BHECON also partnered with New York to raise the profile of behavioral health and the importance of safety-net funding in providing needed community services.

Year 2: In 2017-2018, BHECON re-engaged with Cohort 1 and welcomed three additional states – Kansas, Minnesota and Alaska – as Cohort 2 through a highly competitive application process. In the second full year of BHECON activities, the focus shifted to turning ideas into action and BHECON evolved to include not just forums, but Hill Days, advocacy trainings, legislative briefings and grassroots campaign development. Each state curated their focus in line with the BHECON Consensus Statement and state legislative priorities to move the dial on increasing access, addressing the workforce shortage and criminal justice reform.

An updated Consensus Statement was released including the issue of mental health and addiction treatment parity, as states continue to take states to enforce the Federal Parity Law that requires insurers to provide coverage for mental health and addiction treatment at parity with physical and surgical treatment.

Year 3: In 2019-2020, BHECON is narrowing its focus to the intersection of criminal justice and behavioral health to really push this critical nexus to the forefront of state and federal policy. Individuals with serious mental illness or substance use disorders are over-represented within the U.S. criminal justice system, suggesting that a lack of behavioral health treatment access is an incarceration risk.

Decreasing recidivism, providing technical assistance for staff working with criminal justice-involved individuals, increasing re-entry services and addressing the crisis of suicide and suicide attempts in jails and prisons will help to ensure serious mental illness is not a prison sentence. A new criminal justice-focused Consensus Statement has been drafted to overview the key policy issues and suggested reforms and five states have re-engaged to increase grassroots advocacy related to this topic.