WASHINGTON (FRONTLINE MEDICAL NEWS) – Determining how to integrate and deliver quality mental and behavioral health care has emerged as a top priority for internists, American College of Physicians officials have announced.

“We’re making our presence known in this field,” Richard Trachtman, director of legislative affairs at the ACP, said at a Hot Topics session at the annual meeting of the American College of Physicians.

As part of its focus on mental health, the ACP is recommending that Congress approve a grant program that would fully fund the integration of primary, mental, and behavioral health care. “We would like to see it specifically stated that the team would include a primary care physician, and [that] the population treated would include patients with mental illness and co-occuring primary care conditions with chronic illness,” Mr. Trachtman said.

He cited a provision in the Senate’s Mental Health Reform Act calling for a chief medical officer to preside over the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration to facilitate the creation and dissemination of evidence-based practices that integrate mental health care services into primary care. Under the legislation, the chief medical officer also would provide guidance to insurers to comply with laws that mandate payment for such services. Mr. Trachtman said that he also expected similar legislation to be approved by the House of Representatives.

Among the concerns raised by several audience members during the question-and-answer period at the meeting were the growing workforce shortage of those trained to treat mental and behavioral illness, and best practices for coding and billing for those services. Some audience members also expressed concerns about what the recent proposed rule for value-based care assessment would mean in practical terms for integrating mental health care into practice, and how legal complications could be avoided should mental health outcomes turn out badly.

Shari Erickson, the ACP’s vice president for governmental and medical practice, said in an interview that she heard the concerns expressed by members about how they will be expected to deliver these services in a value-based care environment. “Based on the feedback I just heard here, I will be looking very closely at what [the Medicare Access and CHIP Reauthorization Act] means for them in terms of mental health care delivery,” Ms. Erickson said.

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