Access to mental health support is growing as Blues add providers

Published October 20, 2023

Blue Cross and Blue Shield companies are steadily adding behavioral health providers to networks nationwide. Since 2019, the companies have expanded the number by 55%, despite a shortage of providers. That growth couldn’t come at a more critical time.

Addressing a shortage of providers to meet a growing need

The shortage of mental health professionals in the U.S. cuts across geographic areas and specialties. At the same time, the need for mental health help is rising. Take depression, the most common mental illness in the country. In a study in the Journal of American Preventive Medicine, researchers found that depression has steadily increased among Americans ages 12 and up since 2015. Rates of depression and other mental illnesses increased especially dramatically among youth and young adults. It’s clear we’re in the midst of a crisis.

Blue Cross and Blue Shield companies are taking action in communities across the country, partnering with health care providers and working with policymakers to break down barriers to better health.

What’s more, the companies have added greater numbers of providers in high demand specialties.

Growth by Specialty over past year chart

Solving the crisis requires even more innovative approaches to behavioral health treatment

Offering a range of providers and treatments is a critical part of the solution to the country’s mental health crisis.

For instance, seeing a provider in person can be the right option for some. But Blue Cross and Blue Shield companies are committed to providing access to phone or video visits and connecting providers with populations that need more specialized care. For instance, the Independence Blue Cross Foundation is funding a multi-year pilot to provide access to mental health care for every student at Girard College. Girard College is an independent, five-day-a-week boarding school in Philadelphia, serving hundreds of students in first through twelfth grades from families with limited financial resources. More than 80 percent of the student population identifies as Black. This pilot integrates school support with telehealth services provided by the renowned Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia. The pilot has already expanded to two additional schools.

Primary care physicians play a key role

Primary care physicians (PCPs) and pediatricians may often be the front line for diagnosing or treating less complex mental health needs. Blue Cross and Blue Shield companies are empowering PCPs to play this critical role by connecting them with mental health providers and rewarding the quality of the collaborative care they provide.

For example, Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan now has more than two hundred primary care practices that use BCBS Michigan’s Collaborative Care model. BCBS Michigan provides incentives, training and ongoing support to practices that include psychiatric consultants and dedicated care managers who support pediatricians, family medicine physicians and internists. The upside is that patients may not need to be referred to a specialist for behavioral health concerns—specialists who may have long wait lists or be located far from a patient’s home—and can receive care faster.

About the Blue Cross Blue Shield Association
The Blue Cross Blue Shield Association is an association of independent, locally operated Blue Cross and Blue Shield Companies. All Blue Cross and Blue Shield Companies referenced are independent licensees of the Blue Cross Blue Shield Association.