Blue Cross Blue Shield of Massachusetts Foundation Reports Shine Light on a Critical Issue in Mental Health

February 05, 2019

William James College President Dr. Nicholas Covino engages in a discussion with students and faculty.

Two important reports recently released by The Blue Cross Blue Shield of Massachusetts Foundation have the potential to make a big impact on one of the most pressing health issues of this generation – access to mental health care.

The Foundation’s Massachusetts Health Reform Survey, which was released in December 2018, found that half of those who sought mental health care could not find a provider. The survey was quickly followed by a companion study, Ready for Reform: Behavioral Health Care in Massachusetts, released in collaboration with Manatt Health, which urges a transformational approach to behavioral health care.

“Many in our state have personally experienced the challenges of navigating the behavioral health care system, and the problems have been well documented,” said Audrey Shelto, president of the Blue Cross Blue Shield of Massachusetts Foundation in a press release announcing the new study. “We are fortunate to have many high-quality behavioral health providers and organizations in Massachusetts, and it is clear that they and other key stakeholders are eager to join together to launch a major reform effort.  I believe that we have the experience and skill, as well as the will and tenacity, to get it done.”

The report recommends “a series of specific and actionable reforms focused on five key priorities,” which William James College President Nicholas Covino applauds as a big step in the right direction.

“Individuals and families seeking mental health care run into barriers you would not see when presenting with other medical conditions. A child with chest pain and shortness of breath will receive immediate attention at one of our region's excellent medical facilities. The same youngster with panic and thoughts of self-harm is quite likely to be boarded in the emergency department or returned home to parents to face the labyrinthine and impoverished system of behavioral healthcare,” said Dr. Covino. “We have treatments that are effective for the wide range of behavioral health problems, we just need an accessible system that can deliver them to those in need.”

The priorities identified in the report call on the Commonwealth to take action designed to: simplify the continuum of care; increase remuneration and decrease paperwork for providers; bring more evidence-based treatments and appropriate clinical skills to primary care; expand and diversify the workforce; introduce screening and early interventions; increase medication-assisted treatment; and align and simplify the Commonwealth’s complex behavioral health delivery system.

In a recent post for Psychology Today, Dr. Covino pointed out that the shortage of behavioral health professionals is the major challenge to mental health access here in Massachusetts and across the country. “Half of the population of the United States will suffer from a diagnosable mental illness in their lifetime, but mental health care is the most difficult referral for primary care professionals to make. The paucity of behavioral health professionals is the major challenge to mental health access. More than 50 percent of the counties in the U.S. lack even one psychiatrist, psychologist or counselor,” he wrote. 

“The Blue Cross Blue Shield of Massachusetts Foundation is taking the lead in shining a light on this critical problem,” said Dr. Covino. “The findings of these reports are a must read for policy makers – and the time to take action on these findings is now.” 

The Massachusetts Health Reform Survey and the companion report, Ready for Reform: Behavioral Health Care in Massachusetts, are both available on The Blue Cross Blue Shield of Massachusetts Foundation website.