Blue Cross Blue Shield of Arizona addresses mental health provider shortage

Blue Cross Blue Shield of Arizona (BCBSAZ) is helping address the mental health provider shortage through its Mobilize AZ initiative that promotes positive mental health and addresses the inadequate treatment of resources in the state.

BCBSAZ awarded $560,000 in funding to the Arizona Department of Health Services (ADHS) State Loan Repayment Program (SLRP) to create a first-ever private funding of the SLRP.

“More needs to be done in our state to provide Arizonans with the support and resources they need for their mental health,” BCBSAZ Chief Medical Officer Dr. Jim Napoli said in a statement. “We believe it’s our responsibility to play an active role in increasing the number of qualified healthcare providers to not only improve lives, but to inspire health across the state.”

Arizona ranks 49th in a Mental Health America report analyzing rates of mental illness and access to care. In the past two years, frequent mental distress increased by ten percent from 11.2 percent to 12.3 percent of adults, according to an America’s Health Rankings report.

According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), in the U.S. 9.4 percent of children have received an ADHD diagnosis, 7.1 percent of children have been diagnosed with anxiety and 3.2 percent of children have been diagnosed with depression.

At the same time, Arizona is facing a scarcity of mental health providers, ranking 42nd in the nation for access to mental health care.

According to U.S. News & Work Report, one of the reasons why mental health shortages may be occurring is because of the de-stigmatization of mental illnesses.

“Historically, the demand [for treatment] has not been as strong due to higher levels of stigma and lower rates of treatment being sought,” Dr. Jerry Halverson, chief medical officer for Rogers Behavioral Health in Oconomowoc, Wisconsin told the magazine. “The supply has not caught up yet.”

Other reasons include the perception of inadequate pay and staff burnout.

To help the supply “catch up,” BCBSAZ’s SLRP funds will help support five additional mental health providers over a two-year time period, and ensure that those providers remain practicing in any of Arizona’s nearly 180 Health Professional Shortage Areas (HPSA).

The SLRP helps recruit and retain health care professionals by repaying providers’ qualifying educational loans in exchange for a two-year commitment to provide services in federally designated HPSAs or Arizona Medically Underserved Areas.

Even with $2 million invested in addressing the health care provider shortage in Arizona, more than 45 qualified professionals who apply for the SLRP do not receive funding.

“Since the state loan repayment program expanded in 2015 to include behavioral healthcare professionals, more communities around the state have improved access to critical behavioral health services,” Arizona Department of Health Services Director Dr. Cara Christ said. “We sincerely thank Blue Cross Blue Shield of Arizona for this funding that will help to strengthen Arizona’s behavioral health system and provide more support to our communities.”

As of right now, only 11.31 percent of Arizona’s HPSA population have their mental health care needs met. BCBSAZ is the first company to make a private donation to the SLRP program.

Emily Richardson

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