It can’t surprise anyone. But it is alarming. The pandemic’s reach goes far beyond the initial tragic consequences. So, while there’s reason for optimism (uh, vaccines work), there’s also reason for continued concern. The most challenging public health crisis in a century just isn’t over.
Unintended consequences, right? The lockdowns. The virtual office. Mask mandates. They’re all necessary, but they’ve also challenged many with feelings of isolation and uncertainty. Even so, utilization rates for behavioral and mental health services do not match the spike of people who report mental health and well-being challenges propelled by the pandemic.
Pandemic Collateral Damage
According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), about four of every ten U.S. adults report anxiety or depressive disorder symptoms. Pre-pandemic, that number was about one of ten. A Kaiser Family Foundation poll found many could specifically identify the pandemic’s negative mark on their mental health and well-being. They include difficulty sleeping (36%), eating (32%), and increased alcohol consumption or substance use (12%). Not to mention, chronic conditions (12%) aggravated further by pandemic-related worry and stress.
We all know access to high-quality mental health services is critical to holistic (better quality) care. Our response must match this spike in reported symptoms with increased and (perhaps) enhanced access to behavioral health services.
Pennsylvania continues to lead the way. The commonwealth continually seeks new and effective ways to improve the quality of care for its most vulnerable residents. It often demonstrates a commitment to closing the care gaps–addressing health care disparities only exacerbated by the pandemic.
Now, they’ve done it again. The Commonwealth is putting its money where its mouth is.
Pennsylvania Approaches Whole Person Care
You see, all Pennsylvania Medicaid members who need mental health and/or drug and alcohol services get their care from a designated Behavioral HealthChoices plan. Spurred by that spike in reported mental health challenges and stubborn disparities, Pennsylvania officials decided all Behavioral HealthChoices plans must earn NCQA’s Multicultural Health Care Distinction (MHC). Organizations can pursue Multicultural Health Care Distinction in tandem with Accreditation of a Managed Behavioral Healthcare Organization (MBHO). All of Pennsylvania’s Behavioral HealthChoices plans qualify for that program too.
Pennsylvania’s long stated its intent to “ensure high-quality care and timely access to appropriate mental health and drug and alcohol services, and to facilitate effective coordination with other needed services.”
We think they nailed it. This decision should strengthen overall access to whole-person care across the state. It certainly should comfort Pennsylvanians that the state is pursuing a solution for some of its most persistent challenges laid bare further in the wake of the pandemic.
It’s a critical time. The Commonwealth has made a critical decision, a commitment to match the challenge.
Amy Maciejowski is a Program Manager for State Affairs at NCQA. She supports NCQA’s work with state legislators and regulators. Amy holds a master’s degree in Political Communications from American University.