Conference Coverage

Expert to psychiatrists: Collaborative care is here to stay



– Whether or not the Affordable Care Act (ACA) is repealed, replaced, reviled, or revered should not deter psychiatrists and primary care physicians from seeking to work together, according to a leading expert on integrating mental health care in medical practice.

“Community-based psychiatrists should be focused on finding ways to help create integrated models of care, both in health systems and in other settings, to provide mental health specialty support for primary care providers, regardless of whatever else is going on [in Washington],” Paul Summergrad, MD, said in an interview at the annual meeting of the American College of Psychiatrists.

In a premeeting session on the future of integrated care, Dr. Summergrad, the Dr. Frances S. Arkin Professor and chairman of psychiatry at Tufts University, Boston, pointed to two current trends in Washington that are affecting mental health care. The first is a clamor for repeal of the ACA, which includes pressure from employers who are unhappy with the mandate to provide health insurance to employees; the second is a desire on the part of some lawmakers to slow the growth of state Medicaid budgets by rolling back the federal program’s expansion under the ACA and replacing it with block grants. In opposition, the recent passage of the bipartisan and highly pro–mental health care 21st Century Cures Act calls for more block grants for services for the seriously mentally ill, including those who currently are incarcerated with serious mental illness and substance use disorders, as well as for increased training programs to expand the behavioral health workforce, among other measures.

“If Medicaid expansion is replaced with block grants, that would lead to less care in general for Medicaid recipients,” Dr. Summergrad said in the interview. “It depends on how the states would view their costs of care, and how they would view the medical psychiatric issues.”

Since Medicaid is the largest payer of mental and behavioral health services in the country with reimbursable models of collaborative care, cutting funding for those services would sting. “There’s evidence that addressing mental and behavioral health issues keeps medical costs low,” said Dr. Summergrad, a past president of the American Psychiatric Association.

In his talk, Dr. Summergrad pointed to the now decade-old IMPACT study (Improving Mood: Promoting Access to Collaborative Treatment) which showed that patients screened for depression when presenting with chronic medical issues had lower overall medical costs over time.

He also referred to a more recent study in a large Utah health system that showed overall cost savings, far-fewer emergency department admissions, and better patient outcomes across a wide range of medical issues, which were achieved when mental health services were integrated into routine care: in all, a $12 million investment resulted in $52 million in savings after 4 years (JAMA. 2016;316[8]:826-34). “Utah is not exactly a blue state, but it worked for them,” Dr. Summergrad said. The key was that physicians “embraced normalizing mental health care,” he said.

As for how any changes to the Medicare Access and CHIP Reauthorization Act, which is predicated largely on team-based care for higher reimbursements, Dr. Summergrad said cash-only psychiatrists should be thinking about how to collaborate with primary care providers. “I think the important message at this point is that, however this works, we’ll have to think about integrated care.”

In an interview, Lee H. Beecher, MD, agreed. In fact, Dr. Beecher said that, in his state of Minnesota, engaging with patients on a cash-only basis is the only way a psychiatrist can have a private practice and provide valuable, essential communication with primary care physicians. “Direct-pay physicians are uniquely able to actively facilitate communication,” said Dr. Beecher, president of the nonprofit Minnesota Physician-Patient Alliance. “Most of this is done by phone, directly, with the primary care clinician – rather than inputting and sending an electronic health record.”

Dr. Summergrad had no relevant disclosures.

On Twitter @whitneymcknight

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