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Future Child. 1998 Summer-Fall;8(2):119-33.

The impact of managed care on mental health services for children and their families.

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Management & Training Innovations, Inc., McLean, VA, USA.


For more than a decade, the philosophy of community-based systems of care has guided the delivery of mental health services for children and adolescents served by publicly funded agencies. This philosophy supports system attributes that include a broad array of services; interagency collaboration; treatment in the least-restrictive setting; individualized services; family involvement; and services responsive to the needs of diverse ethnic and racial populations. The notion of systems of care emerged in an era when managed health care also was gaining popularity. However, the effect of managed care on the delivery of mental health and substance-abuse services--also known as behavioral health services--has not been widely studied. Preliminary results from the nationwide Health Care Reform Tracking Project (HCRTP) inform discussions about the impact of managed behavioral health care on services for children and adolescents enrolled in state Medicaid programs. Most states have used some type of "carve-out design" to finance the delivery of behavioral health services, and there is a trend toward contracting with private-sector, for-profit companies to administer these benefits. In general, managed care has resulted in greater access to basic behavioral health and community-based services for children and adolescents, though access to inpatient hospital care has been reduced. Under managed care, it also has been more difficult for youths with serious emotional disorders, as well as the uninsured, to obtain needed services. With managed care has come a trend toward briefer, more problem-oriented treatment approaches for behavioral health disorders. A number of problems related to the implementation of managed behavioral health care for children and adolescents were illuminated by the HCRTP. First, there is concern that ongoing efforts to develop systems of care for youths with serious emotional disorders are not being linked with managed care initiatives. The lack of investment in service-capacity development, the lack of coordination with other agencies serving children with behavioral health problems, and cumbersome preauthorization requirements that may restrict access to appropriate service delivery were other concerns raised by respondents about managed care. As the adoption of managed behavioral health care arrangements for Medicaid beneficiaries expands rapidly, the HCRTP will continue to analyze how this trend has affected children and adolescents with behavioral health problems and their families.

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