By Monica E. Oss
There is a lot of investment money going into the mental health field—in fact, $14.7 billion in the first half of this year (see Why Are Digital First Mental Health Companies So Popular?). Much of that investment is focused on digital behavioral health systems and tools for both professional and self-care.
However, these new platforms and tools are not the perfect fit for every consumer with a mental illness. In fact, 25% of consumers with any mental illness have a serious mental illness (SMI). In all, 13.1 million consumers, or 5% of the total United States population, have an SMI (see Key Substance Use & Mental Health Indicators In The United States: Results From The 2019 National Survey On Drug Use & Health). Of consumers with SMI, 27% have co-occurring substance use disorders. We also know that SMI consumers on average tend to die 10 to 25 years earlier than the general population—and have a mortality rate that is twice as high as that of the general population because of chronic physical medical conditions such as cardiovascular, respiratory, and infectious diseases; diabetes; and hypertension (see Premature Death Among People With Severe Mental Disorders). 20% of the SMI population lives in poverty Approximately 20% of jail inmates and 15% of state prison inmates have an SMI (see Mental Health & Criminal Justice). 33% of the homeless population has an SMI (see 250,000 Mentally Ill Are Homeless. 140,000 Seriously Mentally Ill Are Homeless).
For the approximately 5% of the population—those with multiple chronic conditions and complex support needs—that use a majority of the health care resources, a different approach is needed to assure good consumer outcomes and prevent inappropriate use of resources. That population was the focus of our recent discussion with Carole Matyas, Vice President, Operations at Sunshine Health, and the keynote speaker at the upcoming 2021 OPEN MINDS Executive Leadership Retreat.
On September 22, Ms. Matyas will deliver the keynote address, The Future Of Managing Care For Consumers With An SMI—What Works. The cornerstone of progressive interventions for the high-risk/high-needs population with a serious mental illness is based on a “whole person” treatment strategy that encompasses medical, behavioral, pharmacy, social needs, and caregiver collaboration and coordination. Ms. Matyas will review Sunshine Health programs that are showing promising positive outcomes such as reduced use of acute/crisis care, better engagement with primary care that improves medical health outcomes and addresses high comorbidity issues, stabilized community-based living environment by addressing social needs for the enrolled Medicaid and Medicare members served. She will provide an overview of their Long Acting Injectable (LAI) program with data that demonstrates reductions in emergency department and inpatient services, and increase in community-based and medical services for members.
My takeaway from our pre-Institute discussion with Ms. Matyas? The Sunshine Health approach to optimizing the management of consumers with an SMI has four key components—intensive case management to assure care coordination, leveraging long-acting medications, a focus on primary care, and addressing social support needs.
Intensive case management to assure care coordination. One approach that has improved outcomes for SMI consumers is intensive case management. Sunshine Health took its top 400 high-needs, high-risk consumers (who have 30+ hospital admissions a year, go to the emergency room every other week, and reject any type of community-based treatment) and had its staff provide proactive and intensive case management services in collaboration with a host of community provider organizations and stakeholders. For example, case managers work closely with a telehealth provider organization that Sunshine Health contracts with to ensure that consumers discharged from hospital have their seven-day follow up appointment virtually and then connect them with an outpatient provider organization for ongoing care.
Leveraging long medications. Sunshine Health has been encouraging provider organizations to use long-acting injectables (LAIs) for antipsychotic medication administration. Ms. Matyas shared that SMI consumers receiving monthly LAIs have shown significant stabilization in their mental health and also do better at getting care for their comorbid medical conditions, engage with peers socially, and are even able to have part-time employment. She said, “We are promoting use of LAIs and really going a long way in working with hospital systems, primary care physicians, and mental health providers to make it easy to obtain those medications, administer them, monitor, and do outreach so members continue treatment. While the medications can be expensive, the results definitely show reductions in hospitalizations, readmissions, and emergency room visits as well as better outcomes from community-based treatment.”
Sunshine Health has a number of strategies to increase the use of LAIs. They do not require provider organizations to obtain prior authorizations to administer LAIs. In addition, if clinical professionals start an LAI when a consumer is in the hospital, case managers make sure to follow up with the consumer to make sure they get to the outpatient provider organization for their next dose when it’s due. They also have a “concierge program” within their pharmacy network and customer service representatives call members to schedule an appointment for their next LAI dose. Some pharmacies are also authorized to administer the LAIs. Sunshine’s provider relations team is charged with providing information about LAIs to community mental health and primary care provider organizations.
Ms. Matyas said, “We have a goal of increasing long acting injectables 25% year over year. During the pandemic, we had interruptions with folks getting their long acting injectables, but we are working towards getting back to normal state, which is encouraging.” And now there are two barriers to overcome to extend the use of LAIs, she added. The first is adherence which becomes challenging when consumers are say, cycling in and out of homelessness and are not stable in their environment or engaged in their treatment. The other issue is that there’s a history of long acting injectables not getting authorized by managed care. So provider organizations need to be educated and learn that “they don’t have to jump through a lot of hoops” to be able to prescribe LAIs if appropriate for the consumers.
Focus on primary care. Sunshine Health is encouraging provider organizations to go the integrated care route by participating in health home models and value-based reimbursement (VBR) models. They are also leveraging data to encourage collaborations and equipping primary care provider organizations to better address the needs of SMI consumers. Recently, they launched a behavioral health home program and seven community mental health centers have signed up to date. These centers have co-located primary care and behavioral health services and are delivering whole-person care under value-based contracts.
VBR is the cornerstone for integrated care. Sunshine Health offers incentives for provider organizations to address “gaps in medical and behavioral care.” In the behavioral health homes program, the incentive program is contingent on preventive health screenings being conducted for all consumers and on addressing the comorbidities that SMI consumers have. All provider organizations in Sunshine’s network—whether they are primary care practices or community mental health centers—are expected to address comorbidities and to report on the array of HEDIS measures related to both medical and behavioral care. Ultimately, Ms. Matyas explained, “The goal is to move more to value-based care, where we can impact members by having them in a health care environment so that they don’t have to go eight different places to get the care they need. They should be able to be more easily referred and seen, for whatever service it is they need. Value-based care incentivizes providers to work together without dictating a one-size-fits-all model.”
Sunshine Health embeds behavioral health services in primary care and offers psychiatrists who can consult on prescribing patterns and other issues in the care of SMI consumers. Ms. Matyas explained, “Every member covered by us is assigned a primary care provider regardless of whether they have an SMI diagnosis or not. So every one of the 5% of our 2.6 million members with SMI has a primary care physician. We take the data to our primary care practices and say, ‘Here are the demographics of the population assigned to you and here are the care gaps.’ The primary care practices will tell us whether they can handle the whole-health needs of these SMI members or want us to move them to a different provider. Or the practices may say they are equipped to handle some things but not others. So then we bring in behavioral health quality practice advisors to work with them, or we move the SMI members to a primary care practice that is better suited to work with this population.”
Addressing social support needs. Sunshine Health addresses social determinants of health (SDOH) in a variety of ways. Many of their behavioral health provider organizations have robust case management programs and the case managers connect consumers to social supports as needed. The health plan maintains a database of community resources that these case managers can access on request. They also offer micro grants to small community projects that support social needs. Some of their Medicaid programs, like the SMI specialty plan, have expanded benefits such as housing rental deposit or one month’s advance rent to help consumers get into housing. They’ve distributed cell phones and tablets for consumer use. SMI consumers get $35 a month in over-the-counter benefits from CVS to buy non-prescription items.
The fact that health plans are looking at primary care as the hub for SMI treatment should be a wake-up call for specialty provider organization executives who believe that their niche in serving this population assures a steady stream of business. Assuming responsibility for the whole-person care (medical, behavioral, and social) of the SMI populations served and participating in value-based arrangements are becoming the basics for sustainability planning.