What They’re Watching: Shawn West, Premera Blue Cross

Shawn West is the Medical Director of Premera Blue Cross. He joins us in this edition of “What They’re Watching” to discuss behavioral health.

“In terms of behavioral health, we talk about mental health and substance use disorder; and within substance use disorder there are several things which include opioids. As we’ve been hearing at the [State of Reform] conference, behavioral health is a huge issue. The incidence and prevalence of mood disorders and addiction continue to go up significantly, and I think people are starting to realize not only is this a huge burden for people suffering, but it really drives medical cost in terms of inpatient and ER utilization and poor management of chronic diseases. And in terms of the employers its lost productivity and issues with presenteeism and absenteeism.

We’re looking holistically at the whole story around behavioral health — how do we help de-stigmatize behavioral health conditions so that people are comfortable going to seek care? And then when they seek care, that they’re welcomed and that’s normalized and they’re comfortable talking about it. And then, how do we help remove the barriers to get them treatment, right? How do we assure that not only do we have a great network, but that we have the right types of providers to see people who have unique needs? And then how do we help the transition of care — so working with providers to make sure those connections are there?

I think there’s a lot of factors. One is we talked about how, you know, the incidence and prevalence of depression, anxiety, suicidality are going up and there are many reasons. I think part of it is social isolation, part of it is I think people are overstimulated by all the information that they have coming at them. I think we as a culture haven’t really figured out how to grapple with that in a healthy way. You know, those are all things which are leading to it being a much bigger issue. And then the recognition of the effect, not only both in terms of lost human potential and the burden of suffering, but also how much it really drives the medical spend. I think that’s where, you know, payers like Premera understand and need to address that to help our patients, because as health care is complicated, behavioral health is often even more complicated.”