Announcement Date: January 30, 2017

With Illinois on the verge of transforming its behavioral health system though a Medicaid Section 1115 waiver, mental health and addiction providers see opportunities for increased reimbursement rates and flexibility in how they can deliver services—but only if they can work collaboratively with state decision makers to raise awareness of key challenges, attendees agreed at the BHECON forum held January 30, 2017 in Springfield, Illinois.

Assertive Advocacy and Grassroots Action Are Key to Success

To achieve meaningful policy change, diverse stakeholders must unite for a common cause and be prepared to invest time and money into advocacy efforts, said Vic DiGravio, president and CEO of the Association for Behavioral Healthcare in Massachusetts. Vic shared lessons learned and effective advocacy tips from his state’s successful campaign to raise long-stagnant behavioral health provider reimbursement, enabling treatment organizations in the state to expand their capacity to care for individuals in need. Among his suggestions: collecting and publishing objective data sources describing inflation, low provider salaries, and more; building strong relationships with state Medicaid and mental health officials; and leveraging both grassroots mobilization and media outreach for visibility.

Having objective data sources re: inflation, salaries, etc. was crucial to Massachusetts’ success with rate reform. – Vic DiGravio, Association for Behavioral Healthcare in Massachusetts.

Breaking Down Mental Health Data in Illinois

Quantifying the cost of mental illness in the United States and in Illinois will help advocates bolster the case for continued support and funding for the Illinois behavioral health system. In line with BHECON’s mission to bring data to bear on policy reform, Seth Seabury from the University of Southern California’s Schaeffer Center for Health Policy and Economics provided an overview of the prevalence of mental illness in Illinois and key health and economic indicators resulting from lack of access to care. In Illinois, an estimated 27.1% of individuals who experienced psychological distress reported an unmet need for behavioral healthcare—yet, of that population, 42.8% of them reported that that they had not sought out care or did not receive it due to affordability. Additional data sets pointed to the significant correlation between individuals who have spent time in the criminal justice system and those who have received a behavioral health diagnosis.  Seth estimated that the state of Illinois spent at least $258,113,561 on costs in the criminal justice system for individuals diagnosed with a behavioral health condition.

The total economic burden of serious mental illness in IL is estimated at upwards of $5 billion per year. – Seth Seabury, USC Schaeffer Center

Engage New Partners

Providers should seek out unlikely stakeholders to strengthen their network of advocates and they should utilize a grassroots approach to advocacy in their communities, said Randy Wells, VP for Mental Health Policy with the Illinois Association for Behavioral Healthcare.  The grassroots strategy that Randy promoted encouraged attendees to work with community leaders, such as members of local chamber of commerce.  Nontraditional partners can help reinforce current advocacy efforts and increase recognition that community behavioral health providers are essential to the wellbeing of the state of Illinois.

Behavioral health care providers should point out that they’re not just do-gooders but also employers, tax payers, businesses! -Randy Wells

Announcement of Mental Health Task Force

To close the forum, CBHA CEO Marvin Lindsey announced the formation of a bipartisan Mental Health Task Force led by House Majority Leader Lou Lang. The task force—which has since evolved into a legislative committee— will have three areas of focus: child and adolescent mental health; substance abuse; and criminal justice. Each subcommittee host hearings around Illinois to learn about the issues and to solicit solutions from stakeholders, with a goal of developing a package of legislation to address the challenges identified in each subject area. The subcommittees will report back to the Special Mental Health Committee its findings and policy recommendations going forward. Providers at the BHECON forum expressed hope that this task force will lead to policy changes that will support expanded capacity to serve Illinois communities and recognized the need for ongoing advocacy. As Marvin said, “…this is an opportunity, but a case will need to be built for every piece of reform we ask for.  We are going to have to prove through data how we are helping the communities we serve.”

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