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Behavioral Health + Economics Network a year-one review

Breaking down policy silos through data-driven conversations on expanding access to mental health care

The Behavioral Health + Economics Network (BHECON) is a vehicle for uniting diverse stakeholders in advancing policy reforms to strengthen state behavioral health delivery systems. Beginning in 2016, the National Council for Behavioral Health partnered with its State Association members in Connecticut, Illinois, Massachusetts, Missouri, and Pennsylvania to kick-off Year One BHECON activities. Made possible through the generous support of Alkermes and Genoa, BHECON identified policy barriers and solutions needed to establish secure coverage and access to a comprehensive continuum of care for people with mental health and addiction disorders.

In its inaugural year, BHECON sponsored thirteen state forums attended by state legislators, law enforcement officers, behavioral health providers, judges, physicians, state agency officials, child welfare providers, hospital administrators, advocates, consumers, insurers, housing organizations, and other stakeholders to identify policy barriers and solutions to establishing a comprehensive continuum of care for people with behavioral health disorders.

Through this series of widely attended forums, BHECON served as a launching pad for key policy changes needed to protect and expand access to the full array of treatments and supports for the residents of these states. Forum participants explored a range of federal and state policy issues, including evidence-based outpatient care, care coordination and integration, jail diversion and reentry services, access to medications, supportive services such as housing, behavioral health workforce shortages, and much more.

To support these policy initiatives, BHECON worked with researchers at the Schaeffer Center for Health Policy & Economics at the University of Southern California to develop a series of data chart books for each state outlining the prevalence and impact of untreated mental illness in the states, from which key data points were translated into useful advocacy materials to support policy reforms.

Some common themes emerged from the state forums that informed the development of a Consensus Statement of the key policy issues that required legislative or regulatory change and the recommended policy changes at the state and/or national level that would help improve state residents’ access to timely, high-quality mental health and addiction care.

The Consensus Statement urges policy makers to address three critical areas: diverting people with mental illness from the criminal justice system into community-based mental health treatment, strengthening the behavioral health workforce so that more patients have access to care, and investing in evidence-based behavioral health treatment.

In the spring, the National Council for Behavioral Health hosted the first National BHECON Forum at its national conference in Seattle, where advocates from across the country gathered to discuss common themes arising from states’ BHECON forums, future directions in behavioral health and economics research, and effective techniques for translating data into advocacy through storytelling. They learned about the emerging issues for behavioral health and the potential regulatory and legislative solutions to these issues as the industry moves toward value-driven health care and heard from colleagues about innovative solutions explored during last year’s BHECON events. In addition, participants had the opportunity to discuss and share successful advocacy tactics they used to affect policy change in their states, learned about new tools they could employ in their advocacy work, and shared ideas for advocacy campaigns to advance their policy priorities during the coming year.

Looking ahead to Year Two, the BHECON project will continue to build on the momentum generated in the initial five states, as well as expand activities in an additional four states to build the infrastructure for a grassroots advocacy movement to advance state policy reforms that will improve Americans’ access to mental health care.

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