March 16, 2021
Quartet Health partnered with Centene Corporation in 2019 to bring behavioral health care to patients in need. Recently, we expanded our partnership to provide crucial behavioral health care services to underserved populations nationwide, at a time when demand is at an all-time high. Centene offers affordable managed care plans to nearly 1 in 15 individuals across the U.S., including many who find themselves without employer-sponsored health insurance as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.
“During this difficult time of a worldwide pandemic, we are seeing a dramatic rise in behavioral health needs for our members,” says Michael F. Neidorff, Chairman, President, and CEO of Centene. “Centene is pleased to partner with Quartet to leverage its national network of locally-based behavioral health providers, allowing our members to quickly be matched to the care they need in a setting that is comfortable for them.”
Behavioral health is the impact our lifestyle, actions, and daily habits have on our mental well-being. It is the sum of our emotions, behaviors, and biology — and how each of these affect our perception of ourselves. For many people, the COVID-19 pandemic has dramatically altered their everyday routines, causing behavioral health concerns.
There’s no question that anxiety and depressive disorders caused by quarantine, isolation, financial anxieties, and other stressors have overwhelmed our behavioral health care delivery system. Centene primarily works with at-risk populations who are disproportionately affected by the pandemic, so the company has unique insight into this issue and what can be done to address it. Our partners at Centene identified five key takeaways from COVID-19’s impact on behavioral health care in 2020 and what payers and providers can do to ensure better access for all in the future.
1. Prevention is Essential
If there’s one thing 2020 taught us, it’s that self care is non-negotiable. For many, regular exercise, healthy eating habits, and safe social interactions were key to managing symptoms of depression and anxiety and preventing the onset of behavioral health disorders in 2020. Moving forward, Centene says that behavioral health screenings should become a routine part of overall wellness check-ups, especially for individuals living with chronic conditions. By investing in resources that promote education surrounding mental health in a post-pandemic world, providers empower people to seek the care they need without fear of stigma.
Centene also stresses the importance of providing proper training to staff and community members. They donated to the National Council for Behavioral Health’s COVID-19 Relief Fund to expand the provision of Mental Health First Aid tele-training, which teaches people to recognize signs that someone may be experiencing a mental health crisis.
2. Intervention Should Be Targeted and Timely
Targeted and timely intervention is key to promoting behavioral health. Centene suggests developing culturally sensitive mental health screening programs, with special emphasis on at-risk populations. These may include people who have recovered from COVID-19, members of historically marginalized groups, older adults, those who may be at risk of further social isolation, and those who experience domestic violence, given that incident reports have increased under shelter-in-place orders.
Suicide intervention and awareness tools like the SAMHSA Suicide Safe App provide critical training for primary care providers, who often catch the initial signs and symptoms of suicidal ideation.
With support from Centene, the Association of Clinicians for the Underserved (ACU) recently developed and piloted a Suicide Safer Care curriculum and toolkit to train more than one thousand primary care providers on suicide risk assessment and intervention.
3. Advancements in Technology Are Here To Stay
Providers have made significant changes in treatment delivery with the rise of telehealth in 2020, a necessary adjustment in the era of social distancing. Moving forward, Centene says it’s each payer’s responsibility to continue to partner with high-quality providers to further innovate and shape the future of behavioral health care technology. This includes providing people with equal access to telehealth infrastructure and investing in app-based therapy tools and platforms.
In 2020, Centene partnered with Samsung to distribute smart devices to members in rural areas so they could more easily access telehealth services. Centene’s newly expanded partnership with Quartet helps care managers quickly refer members to behavioral health providers in their area for telehealth or in-person treatment.
4. Crisis Lines Continue To Provide Important Support
The federal government reported an 891% increase in crisis calls in March 2020 compared to March 2019. It’s clear that crisis hotlines continue to play an important role in providing people with the mental health support they need. Our partners at Centene say it’s imperative that we continue to promote these resources and make it as easy as possible for people to take advantage of them. Centene recently launched an expansion of the Crisis Text Line to provide free, text-based crisis support to healthcare workers on the front lines, and increase support to peer-run “warmline” call centers around the country to help them meet increased demand. The recent passage of “988” as a 3-digit direct line to the National Suicide Prevention Hotline will also make it even easier for people to request the help they need once it’s implemented in 2022.
5. Public Policy Will Continue to Evolve
Public policy regarding behavioral health care has shifted due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Centene says sustaining recent public policy changes and continuing to pursue new opportunities is critical for the future. Telehealth has become commonplace and will continue to be in demand. Centene supports data collection and research to better define quality care with this modality and determine which conditions and populations are best treated via telehealth.
Moving forward, states should be incentivized to join provider licensure compacts that allow cross-state licensure for telehealth, which increases access to behavioral health professionals, especially for individuals in rural areas. Providers should also be allowed to prescribe controlled substances via telehealth without in-person requirements.
Additionally, Centene says payers should continue to relax or waive authorizations and cost-sharing requirements to increase access to mental health services. Further expansion of behavioral health care in Medicaid managed care contracts will provide more individuals with treatment that could prevent crises, emergency department utilization, and avoidable inpatient admissions.
At Quartet, we know that mental health care isn’t one size fits all.
COVID-19 added a layer of complexity for mental healthcare workers, who may be experiencing their own stressors and anxieties related to the crisis.
For some, following the stay-at-home orders for one pandemic may render them vulnerable to another: domestic violence.