Access: The TAC Blog
Challenges and Solutions in Rural Mental Health
Q: What are the most important steps to improve mental health in the rural United States? A: Access to care, insurance coverage, and strong social determinants - like affordable housing - that can reduce need. In recognition of Mental Health Month, TAC Executive Director Kevin Martone discussed these topics recently with Beth O'Connor, director of the Virginia Rural Health Association, on her Rural Health Voice podcast (episode #16).
Expanding Access to Substance Use Disorder Treatment through Medicaid
The TAC Human Services team is engaged in efforts to support states in addressing substance use disorder (SUD) needs through their Medicaid programs.
In April, with support from Arnold Ventures, TAC published a brief on State Approaches to Developing the Residential Treatment Continuum for Substance Use Disorders. This resource offers valuable peer insights to help state Medicaid agencies in their efforts to incorporate residential SUD treatment providers into Medicaid provider networks. TAC Senior Consultant John O'Brien, Senior Associate Tyler Sadwith, and co-authors focus on five states that have been early leaders in modernizing their SUD treatment systems: California, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, and Virginia. Drawing on interviews with leaders in these states, the brief identifies key decision points that other states are likely to encounter as they too expand coverage for residential SUD treatment services. Strategic recommendations based on the experiences of these five leading states are offered; best practices highlighted; and factors identified that states should consider when implementing section 1115 SUD demonstration projects and other SUD program reforms.
TAC followed up publication with a webinar to present the major findings in the brief, focusing especially on key decision points and recommendations for state Medicaid agencies. Medicaid leaders from Maryland and Virginia were featured presenters, explaining critical steps they have taken to engage their SUD residential provider communities and provide access to evidence-based practices such as medication-assisted treatment.
In early and mid-May, with support from Arnold Ventures, TAC kicked off engagements with Ohio, Louisiana, and West Virginia. TAC's technical assistance will help these states in their efforts to improve access to high-quality medication-assisted treatment for opioid use disorder through targeted transformation initiatives. TAC consultants and partners met with key officials from Medicaid, substance abuse agencies, and managed care organizations - as well as patient advocates and pharmacy stakeholders - to discuss priority focus areas and options in the design, development, and implementation of interventions.
TAC Staff in Action
TAC Associate Ashley Mann-McLellan presented on "Homelessness Solutions: Housing-Focused Outreach" at the Louisiana Housing Conference in Baton Rouge; TAC consultant Naomi Sweitzer attended the spring conference of the Southwestern Affordable Housing Management Association, where she co-presented with with HUD, Austin (TX) ECHO, and Prak Property Management on the Multifamily Homeless Preference.
There are fundamental reasons that patients with opioid use disorder (OUD) should be offered access to medications approved to treat their condition. For one, the evidence base is compelling: Medication-assisted treatment (MAT) improves patients’ quality of life; reduces substance misuse; and lowers emergency department and hospitalization costs, hepatitis B and HIV rates, and overdose death rates. National organizations dedicated to health care quality have endorsed quality measures assessing the use of pharmacotherapy for OUD, and propose adding them to widely used performance measurement sets. The U.S. Department of Justice has signaled that refusing to permit access to MAT and discriminating against persons receiving MAT are violations of the Americans with Disabilities Act. For policymakers and providers seeking to promote patient-centered care, information about medications available to treat a condition should be shared freely and objectively so that patients and their family members can make informed decisions based on the best scientific information available.
Opportunities for Alignment
Medication-assisted treatment and other practice approaches that embody the principles of patient-centered care are considered by many to be incompatible with abstinence-based addiction treatment models rooted in 12-step programs. The tension that sometimes forms between providers who include medication in the treatment of OUD and those who do not threatens to jeopardize recent investments in prevention, treatment, and recovery, and to fracture a community of stakeholders who need to work together. It is important that addiction care stakeholders recognize and build on the overlap between treatment approaches that involve MAT and harm reduction considerations, and interventions based on 12-step programs. Too often these models are presented as “either/or.” In this post, we’d like to highlight the opportunities for “both.”
Considerable progress has been made in recent years towards improving the availability of medications and services used to manage OUD. Commercial payers, sometimes in collaboration with state leadership, are trending towards removing prior authorization requirements for buprenorphine. At least 51 Medicaid programs have assigned preferred status to buprenorphine, and lifetime treatment limits have all but disappeared. Training resources abound, offering vital supports to primary care clinicians adopting MAT as a new therapy and OUD as a new condition to treat. Support has burgeoned for harm reduction approaches such as syringe service programs, safe injection facilities, and naloxone distribution initiatives, saving lives through overdose reversals and reduced incidence of viral and bacterial infections.
And yet, only 27 percent of specialty addiction treatment centers offer MAT. This unfortunate discrepancy is the result of many factors, including a shortage of medical practitioners who have received a waiver from SAMHSA to prescribe buprenorphine for opioid dependence treatment; obstacles to billing for sufficient reimbursement; and, often, a philosophical orientation informed by a particular interpretation of 12-step programs. Proponents of MAT and harm reduction modalities supporting patient-centered care often face opposition from some segments of the 12-step recovery community. Understanding the positions of 12-step organizations on the role of MAT and harm reduction is a key step to crossing this quality chasm.
A Closer Look at 12-Step Literature
The official literature of Alcoholics Anonymous (i.e., approved by the AA General Service Conference) shows significant alignment with harm reduction and MAT approaches. One AA pamphlet, The AA Member—Medications and Other Drugs, leads with the suggestion that “No AA member should ‘play doctor’; all medical advice and treatment should come from a qualified physician.” The pamphlet continues, “Because of the difficulties that many alcoholics have with drugs, some members have taken the position that no one in A.A. should take any medication. While this position has undoubtedly prevented relapses for some, it has meant disaster for others… they feel guilty because they are convinced that ‘A.A. is against pills.’”
The foundational text Alcoholics Anonymous explicitly supports the use of medications for withdrawal management, as in the chapter Working With Others: “Sometimes you will have to call a doctor and administer sedatives under his direction.” Further, the book notes the important role of clinicians, explaining in the chapter The Family Afterward that “We are convinced that a spiritual mode of living is a most powerful health restorative… But this does not mean that we disregard human health measures. God has abundantly supplied this world with fine doctors, psychologists, and practitioners of various kinds. Do not hesitate to take your health problems to such persons. Try to remember that though God has wrought miracles among us, we should never belittle a good doctor or psychiatrist. Their services are often indispensable in treating a newcomer and in following his case afterward.”
The traditions of AA mirror central tenets of harm reduction. For example, Tradition 3 is: “The only requirement for AA membership is a desire to stop drinking.” AA members recognize that relapse can be part of recovery, and encourage even chronic relapsers to “keep coming back.” Indeed, many people begin attending meetings while still actively drinking alcohol or using substances. The fellowship’s response is to welcome these individuals with open arms. The refrain “We are glad you are here, especially the newcomer” is commonly used in preambles at the beginning of meetings. The underlying premise of Tradition 3 — in text and in practice — is meeting people where they are in their recovery, which is consistent with the core principles of harm reduction.
Nationwide, a patient-centered orientation of care within a framework of harm reduction is beginning to emerge in clinical practice. Guided with evidence amassed over the past few years, clinicians are revisiting restrictive protocols originally issued for buprenorphine care. Recent literature in an influential academic journal offers new clinical recommendations with respect to the incidence of relapse, patients’ use of other substances and benzodiazepines, and the expected duration of treatment. These evolving approaches both embody the model of harm reduction and are consistent with AA’s Tradition 3.
Another major 12-step organization, Narcotics Anonymous (NA), issued a pamphlet titled “Narcotics Anonymous and Persons Receiving Medication-Assisted Treatment” that notes, “Narcotics Anonymous does not express opinions — either pro or con — on civil, social, medical (including medically assisted treatment), legal, or religious issues.” Echoing AA, NA’s Tradition 3 states that the only requirement for membership is a desire to stop using. NA delegates to individual groups the question of whether members receiving MAT should be allowed to share their experience during meetings: “Each group is free to make its own decision on recovery meeting participation and involvement in group services for those receiving medication assistance for drug addiction.” The pamphlet encourages members receiving medications to find different meetings if they encounter strong opinions about MAT from other members.
Building Common Ground
There are promising examples in the addiction treatment community of providers beginning to weave MAT and harm reduction principles together with 12-step-based models. The Hazelden Betty Ford Foundation developed a clinical protocol and training materials to intentionally integrate MAT with 12-step concepts and therapies. Social Model Recovery Systems has served as a ‘provider champion,’ educating other 12-step-based providers that MAT is — as the organization’s medical director Donald Kurth asserts — “well worth including in our armamentarium.” Such initiatives can play an instrumental role in state, payer, and stakeholder efforts to promote dialogue about MAT and harm reduction.
Nationwide, treatment providers are revising discharge policies to better achieve the patient-centered goal of keeping patients engaged in care despite lapses in complete abstinence or in strict adherence to program rules. Too often, patients are administratively discharged — kicked out of treatment — for continued use of alcohol or substances, i.e., their presenting symptom. Encouragingly, providers are trending towards harm reduction in this respect. Administrative discharges have recently declined by half, from 16 percent of all discharges in 2002 to 7 percent of all discharges in 2010.
There are opportunities for policymakers as well. Regulators, accreditors, and payers managing provider networks may benefit from understanding the inclusive positions of 12-step organizations in their efforts to incorporate MAT and harm reduction models into policy requirements. Those seeking to mitigate ambivalence toward MAT and harm reduction must have a grasp of 12-step literature sufficient to address the concerns emanating from the recovery community. Yet to suggest that pharmacotherapy should replace the value offered by 12-step-based providers is a blind spot. There are historical reasons why 12-step-based providers staffed by individuals with lived experience are so common, including stigma and longstanding financial neglect of addiction research and services. The focus of the 12-step framework on addressing the spiritual dimensions of recovery can be a valuable part of OUD disease management; The American Society of Addiction Medicine acknowledges the spiritual manifestations of addiction in both its definition of addiction and its clinical assessment criteria. Rather than discount the abstinence-based provider network, stakeholders should seek opportunities to support 12-step-based providers and staff in integrating medication-based therapies and patient-centered harm reduction principles into their treatment paradigm.
Much of this work is unfolding. California, Massachusetts, and other states have issued guidance clarifying that residential providers are expected to admit patients treated by clinicians with MAT. Missouri requires all SUD treatment providers to offer or arrange for all forms of MAT. Virginia requires residential treatment organizations to demonstrate access to MAT through specified methods, and has issued policy guidance to establish harm reduction principles within its buprenorphine provider network. State Medicaid agencies implementing section 1115 SUD demonstrations must ensure that residential treatment facilities either offer MAT on-site to residents or facilitate off-site access, and are revising licensure, certification, policy, and contracting to promulgate and operationalize these new requirements.
In general, states are setting expectations and developing policies to promote access to MAT to better align with the established scientific consensus, the interest of national quality measurement organizations, recognition of potential legal liabilities, and, perhaps above all, the goal of providing patient-centered care to individuals who want to reclaim their lives. These objectives are achievable within the context of a 12-step framework for recovery, which is a prominent and longstanding feature of the specialty treatment field.
Disclaimer: The views expressed in this post are those of the authors and are not intended to represent the views of Alcoholics Anonymous or Narcotics Anonymous.
Meeting the Opioid Use Disorder Needs of California’s American Indian and Alaska Native Populations
TAC recently entered into a two-year contract with the California Department of Health Care Services to provide technical assistance (TA) and facilitation for the state’s Tribal Medication-Assisted Treatment (MAT) Project. The Tribal MAT Project is designed to meet the specific prevention, treatment, and recovery needs of California’s American Indian and Alaska Native (AI/AN) residents. The impact of the national opioid epidemic on this population in California is especially severe, and significant barriers hinder AI/AN access to MAT and other substance use disorder treatment services. Problems include inadequate provider networks, lack of transportation in remote regions, unawareness of available services, stigma, the need for greater cultural literacy in service provision, and distrust of services and providers outside of AI/AN communities.
Described by its lead entities as “A unified response to the opioid crisis in California Indian Country,” the Tribal MAT Project is funded through State Targeted Response (STR) and State Opioid Response (SOR) grants that California received from the U.S. Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, and is a core component of California’s overall STR/SOR portfolio. Through the contract, TAC Senior Consultant John O’Brien and Senior Associate Tyler Sadwith will offer management support; provide facilitation and TA to Tribal MAT Project contractors; develop a communications toolkit; conduct a scan of effective state and tribal substance use disorder strategies; and deliver planning recommendations for future efforts to mitigate the opioid crisis in California’s American Indian and Alaska Native communities.
Over-Incarceration as an Obstacle to Community Integration for People with Mental Illness
In March, TAC convened leading mental health policy and civil rights advocates in Washington, D.C. to discuss the incarceration of people with mental illness, specifically in the context of the Americans with Disabilities Act and Olmstead law. The U.S. Supreme Court’s historic Olmstead v. L.C. decision, which turns 20 this year, requires public entities to ensure that people with disabilities live in the least restrictive, most integrated settings possible. Symposium participants discussed the changes needed to address system failures that currently lead to the over-incarceration of people with mental illness in correctional settings.
As TAC Executive Director Kevin Martone explained to Mental Health Weekly, “Government agencies must recognize the unnecessary incarceration of people with unmet mental health service needs as a civil rights issue, and fully incorporate initiatives to prevent and end the criminalization of people with mental illness into their Olmstead planning efforts.”
TAC will issue a brief that highlights this problem in honor of the 20th anniversary of Olmstead this summer.
TAC Staff in Action
TAC Associate Phil Allen and Senior Associate Douglas Tetrault helped coordinate a regional meeting of Supportive Services for Veteran Families grantees in Dallas, TX, while TAC contractor Naomi Sweitzer was on hand at the Los Angeles, CA edition of the same event; Associates Ellen Fitzpatrick and Lauren Knott joined the Vermont Coalition to End Homelessness for its “road show” of Youth Homelessness Demonstration Program bidders meetings across the state; Executive Director Kevin Martone joined a panel on “New Research on Housing for Extremely Vulnerable Populations” at the National Low Income Housing Coalition’s annual Housing Policy Forum; In Snohomish County, WA, Senior Associate Rachel Post helped the county expand its coordinated entry system to include referrals to a statewide supported employment program funded by an 1115 Demonstration waiver; Rachel was also recently invited to speak to the California Department of Social Services and its contracted counties about the value of incorporating performance measures into their rapid re-housing contracts.
A Nevada Community Mobilizes to End Youth Homelessness
In 2017, Southern Nevada tallied the third highest rate of unaccompanied youth homelessness in the nation. Recognizing the urgent need for a dedicated response to this crisis, the community, which includes the city of Las Vegas, issued a national request for technical assistance proposals. Through this competitive process, TAC was selected to facilitate a robust and inclusive planning effort, and ultimately to draft the first-ever Southern Nevada Plan to End Youth Homelessness.
From April to October 2018, TAC consultants Lauren Knott, Ellen Fitzpatrick, and Ashley Mann-McLellan worked with the community to create decision-making groups, analyze data to identify areas of need, articulate goals and strategies, and strengthen the active involvement of "Young Adults in Charge" (the Southern Nevada Homeless Continuum of Care's official Youth Action Board) in guiding the development of the Plan.
This engagement culminated in a Summit to End Youth Homelessness, a packed and lively event at which the Plan was officially launched. Rounding out presentations by members of the planning group, TAC consultants facilitated brainstorming sessions for Summit participants on implementation of the Plan, focusing on next steps with identified strategies. Service providers, educators, law enforcement, policymakers, funders, faith groups, and business leaders were all in attendance, demonstrating this community's broad commitment to the shared goal of ending youth homelessness in Southern Nevada.
Meeting the Challenge of Expanding Access to Integrated Physical Health and Addiction Care
With support from the Melville Charitable Trust, TAC Senior Consultant John O'Brien assembled teams of experts to produce two new papers exploring the ways care integration is being practiced - and paid for - in a rapidly changing U.S. health care environment.
Rather than searching for a uniform set of requisite elements in the integration of substance use disorder (SUD) treatment and mainstream medical care, the authors of "Integrating Substance Use Disorder Treatment & Mainstream Medical Care: Four Ground-Level Experiences" decided to showcase a few very different groups of providers that have each moved in this direction. In each case, they asked the same key questions, including "What is the context in which your integrated care effort occurred?" "Why and how did the shift to integrated care come about?" and "What more should we know about integrated care?" A condensed version of this paper was published on the AcademyHealth Blog.
From 2000 to 2014, the rate of deaths in the U.S. from drug overdoses increased by 137 percent, yet access to treatment services for people with SUDs continues to lag. Expanding the capacity of primary care providers to assess and treat addiction is critical to filling this gap, especially given the stigma associated with seeking treatment in specialty settings. "Exploring Value-Based Payment to Encourage Substance Use Disorder Treatment in Primary Care," a joint publication project with the Center for Health Care Strategies, describes how several states and health plans are exploring value-based payment to promote SUD treatment in primary care, and offers considerations for others who might want to implement these models.
TAC Staff in Action
Executive Director Kevin Martone moderated a plenary panel on "The Health of Housing: State and Community-Based Approaches" at the National Association of Medicaid Directors' fall conference (to see the panel, start at about 31:00), delivered the keynote address at the 20th anniversary gathering of the Supportive Housing Association of New Jersey, and led a workshop on Mainstream Housing Choice Vouchers at the National Association of Housing and Redevelopment Officials (NAHRO) conference; Senior Consultant John O'Brien has been named a distinguished adviser at the Pew Charitable Trusts and was recently interviewed by Pew on "How Health Care Payers Can Help Stem the Opioid Crisis"; Subcontractor Naomi Sweitzer led a well-attended event to promote the homeless preference in multifamily housing, held at Austin (TX) City Hall and hosted by Mayor Steve Adler; Associate Ashley Mann-McLellan facilitated workshops and leadership conversations with the Suburban Cook County (IL) CoC on maximizing the impact of rapid re-housing to end homelessness; Ashley also volunteered at Boston's annual Surge to End Chronic Homelessness event; Senior Consultant Jim Yates, Associate Phil Allen, and other partners from the Rural Supportive Housing Initiative traveled to Fairbanks, AK to help the community establish new permanent supportive housing units and house more families and individuals through a robust rapid re-housing program.
The destructive nature of substance use disorders and the influence of active addiction on people’s behavior can often lead to homelessness. In fact, The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Administration (SAMHSA) estimates that 38 percent of individuals experiencing homelessness are dependent on alcohol, while 26 percent abuse other drugs, including opioids. With growing recognition of housing as a critical determinant of health and recovery, we must thoughtfully consider what kinds of housing can best help people with addictions optimize their potential for recovery and re-stabilize their lives.
Two recognized housing approaches intended to help people with substance use disorders (SUDs) transition from homelessness are “recovery housing” and Housing First. These approaches operate differently and have unique histories — yet rather than advocate for one over the other, I suggest that fully supporting both approaches should be our priority.
Alcohol and drug-free (recovery) housing is a critically important and currently under-resourced intervention. It can be operated with tiered levels of supports that are matched with the needs of residents, including more intensive supportive services for those exiting homelessness to self-governed Oxford Houses or Recovery Homes. Many residents of recovery housing attest to their need for this safe and supportive living environment in order to promote their long-term recovery from addiction, their health and wellness, and their ability to stay stably housed.
In the Housing First model, the top priority for service providers is to help individuals and families secure permanent housing. Often the term “low-barrier” is applied in this model, indicating that there are no conditions on tenancy, such as sobriety or participation in treatment. Housing First is based on evidence that stable, lease-based housing plus voluntary acceptance of services can help people make progress on addressing their mental health and addiction disorders.
My advocacy for both models is rooted in 17 years of work on programs designed to help this population. Indeed, my work starting Housing First programs at Central City Concern (CCC) in Portland, Oregon and at Colorado Coalition for the Homeless in Denver was inspired in part by wanting to make sure we were "throwing everything that worked” at ending chronic homelessness and addiction. At CCC, the idea of adding Housing First programming was initially met with some resistance, especially by colleagues who were themselves in long-term recovery. Over time, however, people began to see the value and successful outcomes of offering housing that was paired with individuals’ choices.
Recovery housing can be very effective for clients who are self-initiating detox and treatment. When evidence-based supported employment services, peer recovery mentors, and coordinated outpatient treatment were incorporated into CCC’s recovery housing, we found that high percentages of individuals with primary SUDs who had been homeless completed treatment and remained housed and employed one year post-exit.
With evidence supporting both approaches to housing for people with SUDs, providers and policymakers must be open to a range of approaches to address the diverse preferences and needs of the individuals they hope to serve. For this reason, when I shared the effectiveness of CCC’s recovery housing programs with federal agencies and stakeholders around the country, I also spoke (and still do) about the importance of ensuring housing choice for homeless people with SUDs.
Likewise, the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) discussed in its 2015 Recovery Housing Policy Brief the value of promoting individual choice among housing options for homeless individuals. The brief encouraged expanding the supply of permanent supportive housing and other models that use a low-barrier, Housing First approach, so as not to exclude a large number of people who are unprepared to meet sobriety or abstinence requirements. But HUD also affirmed the importance of providing recovery housing options for people who want and need a sober-living environment. HUD’s Policy Brief outlines the characteristics, practices, and outcomes it expects from recovery housing funded with its homeless dollars.
The expansion of recovery housing received broader federal support in the 2016 Surgeon General’s Facing Addiction in America report, and in another report issued in 2017 by the President’s Commission on Combating Drug Addiction and the Opioid Crisis. Earlier this year, the National Council for Behavioral Health (NCBH) issued a Recovery Housing Guide to help states include high-quality recovery housing among the options offered by their behavioral health systems. NCBH followed this guide with a letter to every Single State Agency, alerting them to SAMHSA’s unprecedented decision to allow State Opioid Response Grants ($930 million) to fund supportive services for individuals with opioid use disorders in recovery housing.
Research is needed on the long-term effectiveness of both recovery housing and Housing First programs for people with primary SUDs. For now, states and local jurisdictions can use the practices described in the HUD and NCBH policy briefs to expand the capacity of recovery housing and improve the practices of existing programs. Recovery housing can promote housing tenure, long-term recovery, reunification with families and children, economic and educational advancement, improved health and wellness, and community involvement. Many of my colleagues whose experience of recovery housing helped cultivate my understanding of the model also report perhaps the most significant outcome of all: They say they owe their lives to it.
Current legislation in Congress addressing the nation’s opioid crisis has wide bipartisan support and includes several provisions to provide housing-related assistance for people in recovery from SUDs. As the final bill becomes law, states and communities working to combat both addiction and homelessness will become better able to offer housing choice that includes robust recovery housing programs.
Improving Addiction Treatment with Consumer Report Cards
"Consumer report cards are a well-established approach to improving the accountability and quality of health care providers." And, as a team of expert authors including TAC Senior Consultant John O'Brien further observe in a recently published Health Affairs blog post, such accountability is sorely needed in the burgeoning field of addiction treatment. People facing a decision about how best to tackle an opioid use disorder should have some way to determine whether a given treatment option will successfully reduce their key symptoms, improve their health and functioning, and prepare them to manage the risk of future relapses. Drawing on several new reports and tools, the authors recommend specific metrics to identify providers using evidence-based principles in their substance use disorder treatment programs.
TAC Staff in Action
Senior Policy Advisor Francine Arienti and Associate Amy Horton conducted site visits in Pawtucket, RI, Northampton, MA, and Albany, NY as part of SAMHSA's national evaluation of the Cooperative Agreements to Benefit Homeless Individuals (CABHI) grant program; Managing Director Marie Herb and Senior Associate Gina Schaak met with Fall River (MA)'s Mayor's Task Force to End Homelessness to help produce a strategic plan; Associate Jennifer Ingle led a training for housing support and management staff in Malden, MA on de-escalation and crisis prevention; Associate Lauren Knott presented on "Unstably Housed Youth: Different Needs, Different Services" at the Homes Within Reach conference in December; Associate Ashley Mann-McLellan is serving as the subject matter expert for a monthly webinar series on developing non-time-limited supportive housing for youth experiencing homelessness, produced in partnership with Collaborative Solutions; Ashley also facilitated a recent session with Long Island, NY's Veteran Leadership Team to plan for sustaining its successful work to end veteran homelessness; Executive Director Kevin Martone and Associate Phillip Allen traveled to Alaska for the Fairbanks Symposium on Homelessness, where Kevin gave the plenary address and led a workshop on "Permanent Supportive Housing and Rapid Re-Housing Services," and Phil gave a workshop on "Rapid Re-Housing: A Systematic Approach to Ending Homelessness"; Kevin also traveled to Phoenix, AZ to work with several states on behavioral health care integration at an event sponsored by the National Governors Association.
Congratulations to Associate Amanda Tobey and her family on the birth of Parker Collins-Tobey — and welcome to the world, Parker!
The Trump administration’s interest in addressing the opioid epidemic is heartening, and last week's proclamation is a welcome acknowledgment that opioid addiction and overdoses do indeed constitute a major public health crisis in our nation. While there is no immediate prospect of a significant cash infusion (millions are touted, versus the badly needed billions) to address the crisis, there has at least been the promise of statutory and regulatory relief — with a particular focus on allowing states to waive the Institutions for Mental Diseases exclusion. This 52-year-old statute bars Medicaid payments for mental health and addiction treatment provided to individuals in large treatment facilities, and some advocates assert that waiving it will allow Medicaid funds to flow for thousands of substance use disorder (SUD) treatment beds that currently lie empty.
All efforts to expand access to treatment are important, but the push to open up large facilities for SUD care as the first priority should be kept in perspective. Empty beds in such institutions may be the result of many causes. For instance, a community with a strong array of community-based treatment options may not need additional beds. In some cases, beds go unused if private payers don't refer patients to a facility because it lacks a modern, evidence-based approach to treating addiction (for instance, if no-one on staff is qualified to provide medication-assisted treatment). And finally, some facilities have never participated in either Medicaid or commercial insurance programs simply because they don’t have to, as their private fee structure allows them to maintain empty beds; these providers may have neither the financial motivation nor the business operations know-how to bill insurers, or to train their staff to meet the quality standards of states and commercial payers.
So, states — before you rush off to the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services asking for IMD waivers, make sure your request is going to make a true difference in getting people high-quality care. We won’t turn this crisis around by assuming that any treatment is better than no treatment.
A FEW WEEKS AGO, I had the opportunity to explain to a roomful of congressional staffers the profound impact that a repeal of Medicaid expansion would have on individuals with substance use disorders - and on the systems that serve them. In the questions that followed, an underlying theme was evident: Would lost Medicaid revenue and other federal resources be replaced by state funds to pay for such services? This issue has far-reaching implications for all of our nation's safety net programs. Both my current work with state systems across the country and my experience as a former state commissioner of behavioral health make clear to me that states are in no position to absorb the transfer of fiscal responsibility they are about to receive from federal policymakers.
Systems Work Better Together
In every state, there are vulnerable populations whose complex challenges require coordinated solutions that use federal and state funding. In recent years, awareness has grown in both the health care and affordable housing communities of the positive outcomes to be attained by leveraging these resources together. State Medicaid directors have become educated on the costs to their programs of individuals with chronic health conditions who are homeless, at risk of homelessness, or living in substandard housing. Likewise, affordable housing leaders have learned that lack of access to health insurance, and especially to integrated behavioral and primary health care services, jeopardizes housing stability. States are becoming sophisticated in their use of interventions that build on this new understanding, such as supportive housing - an approach that combines affordable housing assistance with wraparound supportive services. Such states have increasingly demonstrated cost savings in their systems.
The availability of federal funding has afforded states the opportunity to improve the lives of millions of children and adults. The option to expand Medicaid through the Affordable Care Act (ACA) allowed states to increase access to care for populations with many health needs, create better health care delivery systems, and save taxpayer dollars. Federal funding was the incentive needed for 31 states and the District of Columbia to expand coverage, while states that did not expand Medicaid still rely on significant federal support to operate their traditional Medicaid programs. Federal housing assistance programs have been a critical resource for millions of seniors, people with disabilities, and people living on very little income - though a significant gap remains between available assistance and need.
Shifting the Burden to States
The imminent repeal of Medicaid expansion and the ACA, and proposals to convert Medicaid to a block grant or per capita program, threaten millions of people's access to health care, with disproportionate consequences for vulnerable populations. While these changes will create significant savings for the federal government, states will in turn experience both immediate and long-term pressures to fill the void - allegedly in exchange for more control and "flexibility." Under a block grant plan previously proposed by former House Budget Chair and Health and Human Services Secretary nominee Tom Price, the Medicaid and Children's Health Insurance Program would receive 34 percent less funding in 2025 than under the current federal law.
Decreases in affordable housing assistance resulting from cuts to non-defense discretionary (NDD) programs like those at HUD will disproportionately affect the same populations impacted by cuts in Medicaid. We don't have to look too far back to see how this plays out: the March 2013 sequestration cuts forced state and local housing agencies to decrease the number of households using tenant-based vouchers by more than 80,000. About half of all voucher recipients are seniors or people with disabilities, most of whom live on fixed incomes such as Social Security or Supplemental Security Income (SSI) and rely on Medicaid. In not a single rental housing market in the country can a person with a disability who is living on SSI afford housing at the "fair market rent" determined by HUD. According to the National Low Income Housing Coalition, the United States has a shortage of 7.2 million rental units affordable to extremely low-income renter households. Yet President Trump has proposed a one-percent reduction to NDD each year for the next ten years. Even a simple freeze, suggested by several members of Congress, would result in the defunding of housing vouchers currently used by more than 100,000 families in 2017 alone.
Faced with such a significant loss of federal support, Democratic and Republican governors, legislators, and mayors will have to make some very difficult budgetary decisions. Will these leaders, as many have suggested, find ways to sustain access to health benefits, affordable housing assistance, and social services once federal policymakers shift the financial burden onto states?
Recent history shows that as resources are squeezed, many states are unable or unwilling to prioritize vulnerable populations. Most Medicaid expansion states were in a position to increase coverage only because of significant federal matching. Without such support, states have generally opted to provide only limited benefits to people who are traditionally ineligible for Medicaid, and several states have established highly restrictive eligibility criteria. Economic downturns can create added challenges for states as tax revenues decrease while unemployment and enrollment in Medicaid increase. According to the U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO), during the nation’s last recession, Medicaid enrollment grew by 14.2 percent from October 2007 through February 2010. During the same period, total Medicaid expenditures grew nearly 21 percent, from $332.2 billion in 2007 to $401.5 billion in 2010.
To reduce program spending, the GAO noted, states generally make certain changes to their Medicaid programs, such as altering payments to providers, limiting eligibility, eliminating optional services, or reducing the amount, duration, or scope of services covered. Even as need rose, states cut funding for a range of services by 4.2 percent in fiscal year 2009 and an additional 6.8 percent in 2010, according to estimates by the National Association of State Budget Officers (NASBO). In 2011, two-thirds of states cut provider payments, and 18 states reduced Medicaid benefits. The recession of 2009–2012 resulted in losses of over $4 billion from public behavioral health systems across the country, losses from which they have still not fully recovered.
Most states have allocated resources to support housing assistance for low-income populations. A report prepared by the Technical Assistance Collaborative in 2014 indicated that 34 states offer some type of rental assistance or homelessness prevention funds (e.g. security deposits). However, there is wide variation in the number of individuals such programs can support, and program funding tends to fluctuate annually due to state budget pressures. Indeed, a NASBO survey conducted in the fall of 2016 indicated that in 24 states, general fund revenues for 2017 are coming in below projections, the greatest number of states expecting revenue shortfalls at this time in the fiscal year since 2010. Nineteen states reported net mid-year budget reductions in fiscal 2016, a historically high number outside of a recession period.
There is indisputable evidence that the availability of health insurance and access to health care and affordable housing improve people's lives. As lawmakers contemplate dramatic reductions that will hurt people and economically burden states, we find ourselves at a pivotal point. There is little evidence to suggest that state governments can or will assume the financial responsibility offloaded by the federal government under current proposals. Yet, it is state and local budgets that must absorb the preventable economic consequences when individuals engage costly, crisis-oriented health care, correctional, and homelessness systems. Federal policymakers must understand that a cost shift to states under the guise of flexibility and efficiency will have dramatic and unfortunate consequences for vulnerable individuals and their families.
THIS MONTH, states are submitting proposals to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), outlining their plans to address the opioid crisis. While the strategies proposed will vary, SAMHSA’s message is clear: the funds it provides must be used to connect individuals to needed services in communities that have been hit hardest by opioids. Time is of the essence, and states have only a few months — lightning speed for most state bureaucracies — to increase access to substance use disorder (SUD) services.
Many states will no doubt use their awards to expand prevention and treatment programs. That’s terrific — enhancing the services that directly address addiction should be paramount. However, it is of great importance that federal and state agencies also ensure the availability of physical health care and long-term services, such as in-home supports, for individuals dealing with addiction. States should take steps to integrate these forms of care into the continuum of SUD services, rather than relegating them to separate systems.
Awareness has never been stronger of the importance of an integrated approach to treating diabetes, asthma, HIV/AIDS, and behavioral health conditions. Data has helped show the impact these health challenges have on people’s morbidity, quality of life, and health care costs, while also revealing that people who have any one of these conditions often have others on the list as well — or are at significant risk for acquiring them.
The good news is that insurers and health care providers recognize the need to coordinate medical, behavioral health, and long-term services. Over the past ten years, Medicare and Medicaid have laid the foundation for developing integrated care models to help tens of millions of Americans — and private sector insurance companies have followed suit. These insurers have learned from the pioneering work of health care providers in integrated care, and are bringing their efforts to scale.
A Good Use of Resources
Much of the energy powering integration efforts in behavioral health has so far been directed specifically toward mental health. As the opioid crisis intensifies, however, private and public insurers are paying increased attention to the impact of substance use disorders on morbidity. Meanwhile, prompted by federal requirements that many insurance plans cover SUDs, insurers have found plenty of data that offers compelling reasons to integrate physical health care, SUD services, and long-term supports.
Individuals with untreated SUDs and co-morbid medical conditions often incur high medical costs. For instance, $3.3 billion was expended in one year on behalf of 575,000 Medicaid beneficiaries with a secondary diagnosis of an SUD — triple the cost for those without an SUD. Two of the top ten reasons Medicaid patients are readmitted to a hospital within 30 days of discharge are SUD-related. Conditions that occur more frequently among individuals with SUDs than in the general population include respiratory issues, skin infections, and suicide.
Other problems related to SUDs are opioid-exposed pregnancies, drugged driving, and increases in Hepatitis C and in some circumstances HIV. Opiate use during pregnancy increased from 1.19 to 5.63 per 1000 hospital births from 2003 to 2009; seventy-eight percent of these births were to women covered by Medicaid. For newborns with Neonatal Abstinence Syndrome (NAS) and their mothers, the post-delivery costs are seismic — $43,000 per child versus $900 per child who does not have NAS.
To succeed fully, integration efforts must also factor in the social determinants of health. Many individuals with SUDs are homeless or have unstable living arrangements, challenges that often render health care needs secondary to the search for affordable and safe housing.
Meeting the Need
For insurers who are ready to introduce or enhance integrated care, the first task is encouraging recognition of the need. This may also be the easiest task, as insurers already have the data to make a strong clinical and business case for integration. The next step is to use the data to be more precise regarding who, what, and where should be the focus of insurers’ attention.
First, who? While some individuals are at elevated risk of acquiring a substance use disorder, others have struggled with addiction for decades. Insurers can’t assume that a one-size-fits-all integration program is sufficient. Using data analytics, we can identify the specific health care, treatment, and recovery service needs of different populations. These results can be used in turn to develop data-informed integration strategies.
Which leads to the question of what models an insurer might implement as part of an integration strategy. Some approaches are well-researched and proven to be effective. For instance, the Screening, Brief Intervention, and Referral to Treatment (SBIRT) model has proven invaluable in assessing an individual’s SUD risk and providing immediate and short-term interventions. Screening and brief intervention should occur in a doctor’s office; if patients have more extensive treatment needs, the doctor can make a referral to an SUD treatment provider who is either part of the same practice or a member of a network of practitioners and organizations specializing in SUD treatment.
For individuals with more intensive SUD treatment needs, models for integration are still developing. Several states have created partnerships between physical health care providers and SUD care providers to increase access to evidence-based treatment, such as medications coupled with counseling. Other insurers have assembled teams of physicians, nurses, licensed SUD practitioners, and recovery coaches to coordinate the health, behavioral health, long-term supports, and social services needed by people with significant health and SUD challenges. Evaluations are underway to measure the effectiveness of these strategies.
And finally, the where. Where does it make sense for insurers to invest in new and existing models of integrated care for individuals with an SUD or at risk of an SUD? Again, the answer is not immediately clear. The models highlighted above are being tested in primary care settings, emergency departments, and the specialty SUD system. Some insurers have been working with health clinics to increase access to SUD medications (which generally must be prescribed by a physician or other health practitioner). Other insurers have invested in placing physicians, nurses, and physician assistants in SUD specialty agencies, creating teams to help the high need/high cost individuals who often engage with this system.
In these times of uncertainty, it makes sense to prioritize the protection of individuals’ access to insurance coverage and treatment services — but this can’t be our only focus. Excellent progress has been made over the past eight years to introduce and sustain integrated care for people with substance use disorders, and to test models that will improve their quality of care while reducing costs. Let’s keep going.
Core Principles for Housing and Health Care Policy: A Statement from TAC
TAC's Board of Directors met on December 8, 2016, to discuss the ways our organization can help ensure that leaders make informed decisions about proposed changes to health care and insurance, affordable housing, social and economic policies, and the other programs that form our country's safety net. On January 10, we issued a statement of the principles that will guide our work and advocacy in the months and years ahead.
Read the full statement.
Educating Congress on the Important Role of Medicaid in Preventing and Treating Substance Abuse Disorders
On January 25, TAC Director Kevin Martone and other panelists addressed some 70 congressional staffers representing legislators of both parties. Organized in partnership with the National Council for Behavioral Health, this event offered lawmakers the opportunity to learn that decreased federal support would have a devastating effect on state substance use treatment systems - and showed them why preservation of coverage for individuals with substance use disorders is crucial.
Melville Charitable Trust Roundtable Highlights Housing Program Progress
Since 2012, HUD has awarded Section 811 Project-based Rental Assistance (PRA) funds to 28 states and the District of Columbia. By establishing state-level partnerships among housing, Medicaid, and human services agencies, these state grantees have been able to develop integrated, affordable, accessible housing opportunities - with access to voluntary supports - for people with disabilities who have extremely low incomes. Under contract with the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), TAC is a provider of TA for these Section 811 PRA grantees. On January 12, TAC facilitated a Melville Charitable Trust-sponsored roundtable event to discuss the demonstration program's progress. The roundtable included participants from six states (MN, NJ, PA, MD, TX, and LA), HUD staff, the National Council of State Housing Agencies, the National Low Income Housing Coalition, and the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities. A lively discussion focused on recommendations to increase access to affordable housing, leverage resources effectively, and identify best practices in service delivery.
TAC Staff in Action
Associate Ashley Mann-McLellan recently led a workshop for funders in Seattle/King County, WA on how to incorporate Housing First principles into their requirements, contracts, and monitoring processes - and, together with Associate Lauren Knott, conducted a Housing First training for the Cambridge (MA) Continuum of Care;Working with the Supportive Services for Veteran Families (SSVF) program and the U.S. Interagency Council on Homelessness, TAC Associate Doug Tetrault helped plan and facilitate a community meeting for 60 local stakeholders focused on effectively ending veteran homelessness in Orlando, FL; Senior Associate Jon Delman's symposium on "Successfully Employing Young Adult Peer Mentors: From Research to Practice with the Employer Toolkit" has been accepted by the Psychiatric Rehabilitation Association for its 40th annual Wellness and Recovery Summit; Kevin Martone, TAC's Executive Director, spoke at a Congressional briefing this month on "Expanding Access to Care," hosted by the National Council for Behavioral Health; Kevin also spoke at the National Press Club on December 12 as part of the National Governors' Association event "Housing as Health Care: A Roadmap for States"; and in December, Senior Policy Advisor Lisa Sloane presented on Louisiana's Section 811 PRA program at a public workshop hosted by the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine; and Associate Amy Horton and Senior Associate Gina Schaak volunteered at Boston's Homeless Count the night of January 25.
Congratulations to Liz Stewart on her promotion to Senior Associate with the TAC housing team!
DRUG OVERDOSE IS NOW THE LEADING CAUSE of accidental death in the United States, with staggering numbers of additional deaths occurring every year due to tobacco use, alcohol addiction, and other substance use disorders (SUDs). It is essential to expand access to treatment, and there is growing recognition that integrated care — in which SUD services are incorporated into existing primary care settings — must be a key component of this effort.
Knowing that value-based payment (VBP) systems are one tool used by health care payers to promote system-wide changes, TAC partnered with the Center for Health Care Strategies to find out how states and health plans are beginning move toward VBP as a way to encourage SUD treatment in primary care. To learn more about the definitions and framework that we relied on, and to find greater detail about the practices highlighted here and considerations for the future of this promising trend, read our full paper: "Exploring Value-Based Payment to Encourage Substance Use Disorder Treatment in Primary Care."
Health Plan Innovations
For SUD treatment in primary care to succeed, providers must be prepared to administer medication-assisted treatment (MAT). To overcome provider hesitation to take this step, two of the community-based Medicaid plans we interviewed, the Central California Alliance for Health (CCAH) and Partnership HealthPlan of California, award primary care providers (PCPs) a cash bonus when they become “waivered” — i.e., licensed to prescribe buprenorphine. In recognition that patients being treated with SUD medications often require more services and management than others, CCAH also allows waivered PCPs, along with the nurse practitioners and physician assistants in their practices, to bill for consultative services related to SUD care.
To encourage more sophisticated payment methods for SUD services, the federal Medicaid Innovation Accelerator Program has created clinical pathways and rate tools for MAT. Similarly, the American Society of Addiction Medicine and the American Medical Association recently released a concept paper on patient-centered opioid addiction treatment (P-COAT), a new alternative payment model that supports office-based treatment using buprenorphine or naltrexone. The P-COAT model includes a one-time payment for the initiation of MAT for opioid use disorders, as well as an ongoing monthly payment to help providers coordinate outpatient, psychological, and social services for patients who have successfully initiated treatment.
States Taking Action
There are state-level examples of such approaches, too. Pennsylvania’s Centers of Excellence for Opioid Use Disorder receive $500,000 annually for two years from state funds to meet specific requirements in coordinating physical and behavioral health services, such as having defined referral standards, tracking and reporting quality outcomes, and participating in a learning network. The State of Virginia has actively redesigned its system of care for individuals with SUDs through its Addiction and Recovery Treatment Services program, expanding Medicaid beneficiaries’ access to evidence-based addiction services — including in primary care settings. Virginia makes enhanced payments to select providers who work with patients receiving medication-assisted treatment for an opioid use disorder.
Paying for Performance
States and managed care organizations are using pay-for-performance arrangements to encourage providers to incorporate SUD screenings and services into primary care. UPMC for You, a Medicaid managed care organization in Pennsylvania, evaluates providers both on screening for and documenting co-occurring medical conditions and secondary symptoms, and on ensuring that a high percentage of patients with SUDs who are new to treatment receive a behavioral health assessment by a licensed drug and alcohol counselor. The health plan also tracks how often providers successfully coordinate care with patients’ behavioral health providers. Partnership HealthPlan of California, too, has implemented process measures focused on providers conducting thorough screenings — in this case, to track important indicators in patients taking medication for chronic pain. The Oregon Health Authority uses incentive and challenge pools to financially reward those of the state’s Coordinated Care Organizations that meet key target measures, including alcohol and drug misuse screenings.
The First Steps
Interest is growing in integrating SUD services with primary care, fueled by the determination to improve treatment access for individuals with unmet needs. Many payers are using financial incentives to increase capacity in the primary care network to provide screenings and treatment, as well as referrals to more advanced care as appropriate. States and health plans are still in the early stages of developing more sophisticated VBP arrangements for substance use disorders in primary care, but there are valuable lessons to be learned from those that have already taken preliminary steps.
Our thanks to the Melville Charitable Trust, whose support made this exploration possible.