We’ve had to make lots of difficult decisions in response to the ongoing funding shortfalls in our behavioral health system (as well as everywhere in state government).  Many decisions (while painful in the short term) have been necessary to maintain long term system stability as Arizona continues to emerge from this unprecedented fiscal crisis.  While Arizona is gaining ground economically, the progress is slow and requires ongoing, innovative approaches and strong collaboration by all behavioral health system partners.  Because of our partnerships- our system remains strong. 

State government has been working hard to protect coverage and services for individuals with behavioral health needs.  A recent public letter from Dr. Nelson outlined some of our innovations to creatively reinforce our behavioral health system.  We’ve needed to reduce behavioral health provider reimbursement rates, but we’ve taken other actions to help out behavioral health providers and folks that receive services.  For example, we increased the percentage that must be spent on services and decreased the amount of profit behavioral health authorities are allowed to earn- pressing a larger percentage of the total money into services.  

We’re also making real efforts to bring members, families, advocates and stakeholders together as a community to work with a common purpose to preserve and strengthen the behavioral health system.  Members and families routinely sit on our committees and offer valuable input in the redesign of programs that have to operate with less funds. Member-operated organizations such as the Phoenix Visions of Hope have created programs such as warm line crisis response to help members who have lost benefits and need help.  The Family Involvement Center, which offers support to family members in the behavioral health system, has a number of programs to help family members cope with the loss of benefits. 

We’ve also been encouraging the integration of physical and behavioral healthcare among behavioral health providers with acute care health plans and community health centers around the state.  Our new reform initiative will offer whole heath services to persons with Serious Mental Illness in Maricopa County beginning in October 2013.  Tragically, folks with serious mental illness typically die 25 to 30 years younger than the general population, primarily because of physical health issues, many of which are preventable.  This initiative, through the development of Health Homes, will offer these individuals both physical and behavioral health care through one health plan by a team of dedicated health care professionals.  Not only will this new health care delivery system improve health outcomes and reduce costs, there will be an emphasis on prevention, wellness and self-directed disease management programs that have typically not been offered as a routine part of health care.  While these partnerships should also reduce overall healthcare costs, they will also improve quality of care and health outcomes. 

There’s no question that these are tough times and our hearts go out to those who are suffering.  However, we’ll continue to do everything in our power to minimize any harm brought on by budget cuts and continue to make the adjustments in a way that maintains stability and keeps our system strong.  You have my commitment that every decision will be made with our members’ best interest as the number one priority.  Our primary goal—even during these challenging budgetary times—is to provide the best possible behavioral health care to our members and we’re committed to achieving that goal along with our partners in the behavioral health system- and to seek out new ways (like integrating behavioral primary health care) to improve health and wellness.