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How Does the Narrow Network Trend Play Out in Behavioral Health Networks?

Posted by Laura McMullen on Thu, Jan 11, 2018

A recent article from Kaiser Health News discussed a study from researchers at the University of Pennsylvania about narrow behavioral health networks. The researchers compared mental health provider participation in marketplace networks to primary care physician participation in the same networks using 2016 data from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation for 531 provider networks offered by 281 insurance carriers in the marketplaces in every state plus the District of Columbia. 

Here’s what they found:mental healthcare.jpg

  • The average provider network includes 11% of all the mental health care providers in a given market while 24% of PCPs participate.
  • An average marketplace plan’s network includes just under 25% of all psychiatrists and 10% of all non-physician mental health care providers. Non-physician mental health care providers included psychologists, nurse practitioners and physician assistants, and behavioral specialists, counselors and therapists with master’s or doctoral degrees.

How do these counts compare to commercial behavioral networks? We looked at unique provider counts in the 5 largest behavioral health networks in NetMinder and here’s what we learned:

  • Total mental health care provider participation ranges from 18% - 27%. Total PCP participation ranges from 27% - 41% in medical networks from the same companies.
  • Commercial networks include 12% - 34% of psychiatrists and 16% - 42% of psychologists who participate in at least one network.

While more behavioral health providers participate in commercial networks, the trend is similar. The study went on to consider reasons for the gap:

  • Low levels of network participation among mental health care providers. Among physician specialties, psychiatrists are least likely to join networks, according to a 2014 study in JAMA Psychiatry. While this research was limited to psychiatrists, other private-practice mental health providers have similar participation levels.
  • Reimbursements drive behavior. Many plans don’t reimburse providers for case management and other non-physician services. Psychiatrists prescribe medication which is reimbursed at a higher rate than therapy and often covered in medical plans leading them to participate in those networks instead of behavioral health networks.
  • Shortage of mental health providers. While psychology is consistently one of the top 10 college majors, there is a shortage of psychiatrists and psychologists, as we noted in a 2016 post. In 2017, psychiatrists are ranked #17 and psychologists are ranked #30 in US News and World Reports list of 100 Best Jobs based on demand, salary, job satisfaction, and other factors.

The decade-long push for mental health parity in insurance coverage has provided incentives to fill this gap. Primary care physicians, physician assistants, and other non-physicians are providing mental health services. In fact, NPR and Kaiser Health News reported that a recent Milliman study found that “insurers paid primary care providers 20 percent more for the same types of care than they paid addiction and mental health care specialists, including psychiatrists.”

How is your network adapting to the changing market?

Tags: behavioral health, mental health care, narrow networks, behavioral health networks, healthcare providers, healthcare benefits

 

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