ACP Backs New Bill That Would Defray Costs and Allow Internal Medicine Physicians to Offer Behavioral and Mental Health Care

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As part of the BHI Collaborative, ACP works to help practices integrate behavioral and mental health care into primary care

June 16, 2023 (ACP) — As primary care physicians are often gatekeepers for patients experiencing symptoms of depression and anxiety or struggling with substance use disorders, the American College of Physicians is supporting new legislation that seeks to encourage more internal medicine physicians to offer behavioral care services.

The bill, S. 1378, the “Connecting Our Medical Providers with Links to Expand Tailored and Effective Care,” or the COMPLETE Care Act, would increase Medicare payment rates for behavioral health integration services in 2025, 2026 and 2027 to defray the often prohibitively expensive start-up costs. The bill would also require physicians to report quality measures to the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services that would determine how well they are integrating behavioral health services into their practices.

Such collaborative care models offer a potential solution to the supply and demand issue in the behavioral and mental health field. “Integrating behavioral health in the primary care setting has been demonstrated to increase patient access to these often lifesaving services,” Dr. Omar T. Atiq, ACP president, wrote in a June 1 letter to the bill's sponsors. “We are also supportive of reporting behavioral health quality measures as long as these measures are consistent across public and private insurers, do not add unnecessary administrative burdens to physician practices, [and ideally align with the recommendations of ACP's Performance Measurement Committee].”

“Start-up costs are so high, especially in rural areas, and this bill gives doctors a little bit of help in terms of increased payments from Medicare to defray some of the costs associated with adopting new collaborative care models,” said Brian Buckley, ACP senior associate for legislative affairs.

The new bill, if passed, will help move the needle along, he said. “It allows our internal medicine physicians to make investments in their practice that will improve the care for patients in need of behavioral health care,” he explained. “The cost for this care is so great, and this bill would provide additional funding for doctors to make these improvements in their practice.”

The bipartisan bill was introduced in the Senate Finance Committee on April 27, but no hearing has been set yet, Buckley said.

ACP is one of eight medical societies that comprise the Behavioral Health Integration (BHI) Collaborative, a group that aims to help practices integrate behavioral and mental health care into primary care practices.

The group offers such resources as screening instruments, videos, patient materials, billing and coding guidance, registries and a financial workbook to help practices estimate revenue and expenses associated with integrating behavioral health services, Buckley explained.

Another tool, the BHI Compendium, provides information on the steps required to integrate behavioral health care into a practice. In addition, the collaborative offers the Overcoming Obstacles Webinar Series to help practices troubleshoot any issues that may arise in the integration process. Additionally, ACP's Online Learning Center has available an Internal Medicine Meeting Recording from this year's meeting, Primary Care Psychiatry: Practical Skills for Internists.

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Back to the June 16, 2023 issue of ACP Advocate