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Blue Cross and Blue Shield NC adds mental health tech services

Blue Cross and Blue Shield of North Carolina is adding the mental health technology services of Quartet Health to its value-based care arsenal.

Quartet's platform will provide Blue Cross NC with the data analytics and technology infrastructure to measure and support the delivery of high-quality mental healthcare, while Blue Cross NC will provide the payment model along with incentives through the Blue Premier Behavioral Health network.

“The collaboration is the first step in a systematic shift in the way that patients experience mental health, the way that mental health providers offer care and the way that health insurers cover the cost of mental health services,” Quartet executives say. In addition to its agreement with Blue Cross NC, Quartet is rolling out similar arrangements with other health plans across the country.

Quartet enables physicians and care managers to recommend patients for mental health, while keeping a patient’s mental and physical health team connected via a secure network.

"It's time for our healthcare system to treat the patient as one person, not as someone with physical health needs and someone with behavioral health needs," says Kate Hobbs Knutson, MD, Blue Cross NC chief of behavioral health. "Blue Premier Behavioral Health will expand access, improve coordination with primary care and help achieve better health outcomes."

David Wennberg, MD, CEO of Quartet, notes that there is no standard of care for mental health in America. “Quartet is ready to change that. It's time that we listen to patients and ensure that they can get the high-quality mental health care they deserve," he says.

The new partnership with Blue Cross NC “acknowledges what we've long known,” Wennberg says. “[M}ental healthcare is healthcare."

According to the World Health Organization, nearly one in four people will experience a mental health condition during their lifetimes, but nearly two-thirds of them never seek help from a healthcare professional. Some of this is a result of the stigma associated with mental healthcare.

Other reasons for the lack of mental healthcare include the scarcity of providers and resources. A Milliman Research report released last November found that treatment for mental health and substance use disorder treatment is too expensive—even with health insurance—for many Americans. High cost, combined with a shortage of mental health providers and too many of them out-of-network, has made it difficult for people to get mental healthcare.

Some experts note that mental health parity was fueled, in part, by the HITECH Act of 2009, which incentivized the implementation of electronic medical records for primary care and specialists, but left out mental health providers, who now struggle to be eligible for value-based care payment models.

"The only way to achieve true parity in mental healthcare is to make it easier for people to access high-quality care," says former Democratic Congressman Patrick Kennedy from Rhode Island, founder of The Kennedy Forum. "The work that Quartet and Blue Cross Blue Shield of North Carolina are doing to offer value-based payments for providers is critical. Those with mental health and substance use disorders should not have to endure a separate and unequal system of care."

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