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Cost-saving equals lifesaving

June 3, 2015
by Bill Bithoney
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An ounce of prevention has always been worth a pound of cure, but now it also carries monetary value to those who provide it. A trend is emerging within the behavioral healthcare sector to grow its service capacity through better integration with clinical care, and it's being encouraged by new reimbursement incentives.

As part of the Affordable Care Act's expansion of the Mental Health Parity and Addictions Equity Act (MHPAEA), behavioral health screenings are now covered by insurers, and physician offices can receive payment for conducting Screening, Brief Intervention and Referral to Treatment (SBIRT) exams.

Catching problems before they start will not only provide new revenue streams for physician offices that co-locate, or refer to, behavioral health services, but will also save on health care costs for patients, at-risk providers, and insurers along the entire care continuum.

In SAMHSA's most recent National Survey on Drug Use and Health, 7.7 million individuals were identified as having co-occurring substance abuse disorders and mental health issues. Substance abuse alone costs Americans more than $600 billion per year. Yet treatment rates are low: of the 21.6 million Americans with a drug or alcohol dependency in 2013, only 19 percent had received some sort of behavioral health treatment in the past year.

Extrapolate that to related conditions caused by substance abuse, and the potential for cost-saving lifesaving grows exponentially. Interrupting a cocaine habit could prevent a drug-related stroke down the line. Addressing alcoholism earlier in a patient’s life can prevent cirrhosis treatment later on and protect them against costly hospital stays. And treatment for depression and other mental health conditions has the potential to not only save a life by preventing a suicide, of which the economic cost to the U.S. was estimated to be more than $44 billion annually, but help that patient advance both their own personal economy and the nation’s by enabling them to work and earn income more reliably.

Prevention is being pursued both in physician offices and, recently, remotely. Telemedicine has been proven to further reduce costs and improve outcomes for investors and patients alike. One analysis predicts telemedicine could potentially deliver "$6 billion per year in health care savings to U.S. companies."

And telemedicine has been proven effective in behavioral health treatment in numerous studies. Smartphones and apps are actually preferred by patients over prescriptions for medication. Moreover, the reduction in facility costs and increased access to patients makes telehealth, and telepsychiatry specifically, a cost-effective alternative to in-person treatments, while delivering much needed care.

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