Mental Health & Addictions Make Key Health Indicators List

Written by crchealthgroup   // November 14, 2011   // Comments Off


As seen in Open Minds.

Last month, as part of its 2020 efforts, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ Healthy People initiative released a list of leading health indicators that “will be used to assess the health of the Nation, facilitate collaboration across sectors, and motivate action at the national, state, and community levels to improve the health of the U.S. population” (see The Vision, Mission, and Goals of Healthy People 2020). These 26 “high-priority health issues” are organized into 12 categories:

  1. Access to health services
  2. Clinical preventive services
  3. Environmental equality
  4. Injury and violence
  5. Maternal, infant, and child health
  6. Mental health
  7. Nutrition, physical activity, and obesity
  8. Oral health
  9. Reproductive and sexual health
  10. Social determinants
  11. Substance abuse
  12. Tobacco

I was happy to see that mental health and addictions (and tobacco, too) made the list of health priorities. As we move towards measurements of health system performance that are based on overall consumer health status and “total costs of care”, the inclusion of behavioral health as an indicator is key.

This shift in thinking about our population – away from behavioral health as a separate and disconnected specialty, to the recognition that high-cost consumers in the health system most often suffer from mental illnesses and addictions – is an important change of paradigm. This high-cost five percent of the U.S. population accounts for half (49 percent) of our health care spending – where consumers with five or more chronic conditions (almost always including a mental illness or an addiction) see 14 different physicians a year with 37 office visits and 50 prescriptions per year.

This recognition has resulted in more attention on early detection and prevention in this area. For example, starting Medicare will cover preventive primary care screenings for depression and alcohol misuse for fee-for-service Medicare beneficiaries. The new benefit also includes behavioral counseling for alcohol misuse at no cost to the beneficiary (see Medicare Adds New Coverage for Preventive Depression, Alcohol Screening & Counseling in Primary Care).

While the “essential benefits package” issue is still up in the air in terms of behavioral health (see No Clarity on “Essential Benefits” for Mental Illness & Addiction), I think that train has already left the station. If we’re moving to a health care equation focused on “total costs of care”, treating mental illnesses and addictions will be a high priority.

by Kristen Hayes

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