Improving Access to Behavioral Health Care

August 30, 2019
Virtual Visits Infographic

Diagnosable mental health disorders affect nearly 58 million American adults every year – or about one out of every four people – according to the National Institutes of Health (NIH). Still, only 42% of those with “any mental illness” receive mental health services, according to data published in 2018 by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA).

Similarly, even though nearly 21 million people experience substance use disorders each year, only a fraction – one in 10 – of those individuals receives treatment, according to SAMHSA.

The impact of this on our health care system is staggering. Consider that:

  • Lost earnings due to serious mental illness cost about $193 billion annually, according to research published in the American Journal of Psychiatry; and
  • Between 2007 and 2017, the rate of deaths from drug overdose increased 200%, according to the NIH.

UnitedHealth Group is focused on helping people access the right care, at the right time and in the right setting. By leveraging a variety of channels and strategies, UnitedHealth Group is taking a holistic approach to improve access to quality behavioral health services for millions of Americans nationwide.

Leveraging Virtual Visits

Technology can be an excellent tool to help overcome the barriers of stigma, access to quality treatment, and gaps in coordination of medical and behavioral health care. This is especially true for people in geographic areas with a shortage of access to timely and efficient behavioral care, such as the 20% of the U.S. population that lives in rural areas.

Through Optum, UnitedHealth Group offers access to more than 5,000 behavioral health providers who participate in real-time, audio/video-enabled sessions across all 50 states. And through our Express Access provider network, people seeking help can find a care provider who has agreed to see a patient within five days vs. an industry standard wait time of two weeks.

OptumRx’s Genoa Healthcare – the largest provider of pharmacy, outpatient telepsychiatry and medication management services – has served the behavioral health community for nearly 20 years. It cares for 800,000 individuals annually in 47 states and the District of Columbia, and fills more than 15 million prescriptions per year.

Specifically, Genoa’s telepsychiatry community comprises 3,000 psychiatrists and advanced practice registered nurses across 29 states, enabling patients to connect virtually in real time with their care providers via a computer, tablet or smartphone.

Targeting Interventions

We know that medical conditions, mental health conditions and substance use disorders are connected and often occur at the same time, so it’s important to address all of these problems if we want someone to be truly healthy. Optum is helping close health care gaps by using an approach that identifies how, when and where to target medical and behavioral interventions to have the biggest impact.

Increasingly, primary care physicians are using tools from Optum and UnitedHealthcare to help recognize the signs of mental health challenges and substance use and determine what questions to ask so they can help connect their patients to treatment if needed. A shared technology platform helps eliminate the most common gaps between medical and behavioral providers by coordinating care between case managers and clinicians.

Ongoing Emotional Support

UnitedHealth Group also provides free emotional support for those impacted during major events, such as the August mass shooting in El Paso, Texas, via Optum’s Emotional-Support Help Line. The phone line offers access to specially trained Optum mental health experts to help people manage stress and anxiety so they can continue to address their everyday needs.

UnitedHealthcare’s Health Homes program, meanwhile, provides support to some of the most vulnerable people enrolled in state Medicaid programs in the form of a care coordinator from a local services organization who collaborates with specialists and social services agencies to develop tailored care plans.

Caring for people with behavioral and substance use disorder issues is not a one-size-fits-all approach. It takes compassion, collaboration and ongoing support.