Managed behavioral health organizations (MBHOs) are beginning to take a somewhat unusual tack in that they’re encouraging utilization of services in an effort to eradicate the stigma from mental illness and addiction. As service delivery changes under healthcare reform, insurers and other payers will likely encourage individuals to access care sooner—before health issues become severe.
For MBHOs, it’s a strategic move to achieve overall cost savings.
Last month, the Washington, D.C.-based Association for Behavioral Health and Wellness (ABHW) launched its “Stamp Out Stigma” campaign after a year of preparation. ValueOptions, an independent behavioral healthcare and wellness company in Norfolk, Va., began the effort, but it’s grown since then to include other organizations. “They had a lot of success in reaching people, but realized they could only be so successful as one company,” Pamela Greenberg, president and CEO of ABHW, told Behavioral Healthcare. So ValueOptions brought the project to the ABHW board last year, willing to turn it over to the association, if leaders were interested in expanding the campaign. “We had a small committee that met to consider what an ABHW commitment could look like,” said Greenberg.
Ultimately, ABHW took on the role of patient advocate. “Our interest is the same as any other group that’s advocating for people with mental illness and addiction, that is, to stamp out the stigma so people feel more comfortable talking about it.” More open discussion leads to less anxiety about seeking help, said Greenberg.
She believes the campaign is more a benefit to the patients than to the insurers or their clients and compared the initiative to the ABHW’s support for parity and for the Excellence in Mental Health Act. “None of this would necessarily help the bottom line,” she said. “But these things are on our agenda for the greater good.” Members of ABHW, whether they’re carve-outs or carve-ins, have a special interest in behavioral issues. That’s fundamentally why they join the organization.
What’s unique about the campaign is the collaborative effort among insurers that are typically direct competitors. Although not all members are participating in Stamp Out Stigma currently, Greenberg expects that eventually all will come on board. The MBHOs who participate are funding the campaign equally.
Several MBHOs brought their own employees together to talk about how mental illness and addiction affects their lives, aiming to test the program internally before a full rollout to the clients they serve. Participants are also leveraging social media to introduce the concept to the public. For example, ABHW has a Stamp Out Stigma Facebook page.
While not everyone believes that mental illness is a disease, even fewer believe that addiction is a disease. “It’s a tougher road to get people in our nation not to be stigmatized towards addiction,” Greenberg said. “Even when you’re trying to find posts to tweet about, you find a lot more about mental illness than you do about addiction.”
Go to www.stampoutstigma.com and take the pledge to stamp out the stigma. On Twitter, follow @stampstigma.