March 1st marked the official launch of Beacon Health Options’ rebranding as Carelon Behavioral Health. As a subsidiary of Elevance Health, Carelon was established last year to provide a full range of healthcare services.
The organization will continue providing behavioral health services under its new name and branding as part of Carelon. Carelon Behavioral Health’s Vice President of Client Partnerships Kevin Denmark spoke to State of Reform, sharing his outlook on the branding change as well as insight about the Texas behavioral health landscape.
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State of Reform: Can you explain what the rebranding means for behavioral health management in Texas?
Kevin Denmark: “[The goal of the rebranding] is to further the whole health strategy and leverage wider-reaching partnerships across the healthcare system. We will strive to improve outcomes and most importantly, find better ways to care for our members. But what does that really mean in terms of the structure? In addition to Carelon Behavioral Health … there are several other health services businesses that are migrating to Carelon. While the name Carelon is new, our portfolio of businesses has collectively delivered high-impact results for over 150 years. They include AIM Specialty Health, Health Core, Meridian Resource Company, and MyNexus, [along] with others. The strategy is going to create a powerful suite of solutions that address all aspects of health from complex conditions to qualitative care ranging from innovative pharmacy solutions to the behavioral health services that Beacon has provided for decades.
From the Texas perspective, it’s very exciting as I’ve seen Beacon Health Options grow over time and this marks the next step in our continued growth. Today, Carelon companies serve one in three Americans through partnerships with organizations such as health plans, employers, government agencies, and paid care providers across the nation. So to bring that real-world, whole health strategy on a national scale to bear in Texas is really exciting.”
SOR: How will Carelon Behavioral Health ensure that the quality associated with Beacon Health Options remains?
KD: “We’ve grown and morphed over time. Beacon Health Options was a merger between Value Options and Beacon Health Strategies, and together, they have over two decades of experience in Texas. So we’ve been around and our DNA has really been in Texas for a long time. We’ve done that through partnering with health plans, local mental health authorities, state agencies, and providers through many different care models, specifically in the behavioral health space.
In June 2022, our parent company Elevance Health announced the launch of Carelon. The name is derived from the word ‘care’ and the suffix ‘lon,’ which means full and complete. Since mental health, behavioral health, and emotional wellness are all critical for achieving whole health, it’s a perfect fit for the Carelon brand. What we’re looking at is an addition, not a subtraction to what we’ve done. We can bring to bear our local knowledge and access to partners across the Carelon brand.
It’s also important to say what won’t change. There’s going to be no disruption to services for our current members, providers, and clients. Additionally, all existing phone numbers, emails, websites, and portals will be redirected. No re-registration will be required. The same remains true for our current customers in Texas, as the brand change will not affect contracts.”
SOR: What successes and concerns related to behavioral health services are you hearing at the local level?
KD: “Recently we’ve seen a significant increase in people accessing behavioral health. This has really taken shape in two ways. First, there are more people utilizing behavioral health services for the first time. We see this as a good thing. Whether they’ve discovered that they have benefits for the first time through increased Medicaid or marketplace enrollment, or through their commercial plan accessing newly allowed convenient telehealth modalities in Texas.
It was not too many months ago when telehealth was allowed as an option for behavioral healthcare in Texas. Either people realize that negative stigma is not what it used to be so they wanted to give it a try, or they’re accessing new wellness apps. Again, we think it’s all positive, especially as it relates to quality of life. Ultimately, as we increase quality of life, it reduces the overall spend for our clients who are often the MCOs and government agencies. It’s important l to take care of our members and take care of their behavioral health needs no matter what that looks like or how they access that care.
The second group where we’re seeing an increase is among those who already had underlying behavioral health issues. Unfortunately, that utilization is going up because of the pandemic, social unrest, you name it. It’s been a tough few years. This is even more of a reality when we’re talking about substance abuse and substance use disorders
I know that we’re all trying to put the pandemic behind us, but the tail end of the underlying depression, substance use disorders, increased anxiety, and suicidality in the general population is still very apparent in the data. We’re still seeing it—what we call the ‘penetration rate’ of new high utilizers is increasing and those utilizers are accessing more and more services.
That means there’s an increased amount of investment needed in the behavioral health space, which is not necessarily a bad thing because we can see that increase pay off. You see a lot of new players, new models, you see people trying new things, and that’s all really good. The investment is the difference over the past years, spurred by unfavorable events in the world, but ultimately leading to some positive movement in terms of how we see and talk about behavioral health.”
SOR: What solutions for improving quality of life can we expect through regional and statewide behavioral health innovations?
KD: “There are a lot of great solutions out there. I’ve been in Texas and with the company for many years. I’ve also worked in many other states with the company. I’ve met so many great people and solutions, it’s hard to talk about any one of them. But what we need to do is continue building the connective tissue between all the important players throughout the state of Texas.
As I mentioned before, there’s been a significant investment into the system, and potentially lots of new options for people to access care at varying levels of acuity (need). Some of these new options may not need a company like Carelon Behavioral Health to help administer them, but everyone needs to be at the table for connectivity purposes. Each part of the system needs to know what the other part of the system is doing.
The opportunities are about linking care, creating that connectivity, and making sure that every member has access to care—where and when they need it. It’s walking that member through the process of getting better, paying attention to the handoffs and ensuring those transitions still result in quality outcomes.”
SOR: What is next for Carelon Behavioral Health in Texas?
KD: “With the new Carelon brand, it really provides us the opportunity to take a look at whole health and branching out beyond just behavioral health with our Carelon partners. As an example, new opportunities might include school-based mental health services. Many school counselors are doing unbelievable work addressing some of the sticky issues affecting our kids associated with the pandemic.
The Texas school system has made great strides in connecting to Medicaid MCOs, LMHAs, and other care networks. We need to continue to share the load and the responsibility of taking care of our students, and we can all do a little bit more there. There’s going to be a panel during the State of Reform Conference on youth and adolescent crisis [that will feature] a conversation with doctors who have a lot of experience in this space. I’ll be moderating a few questions on what the system looks like, opportunities for more connectivity, and new things to be considered to help address this important issue.
Another example where there’s a huge opportunity to shape care pathways is through the catalyst, 988. 988 became the national suicide crisis hotline [in] July of last year … and many of these calls are answered by local entities. Even if they’re answered by a back-up call center, if there is a need to deploy resources for intervention, those services are always local, as well.
Carelon Behavioral Health can make sure that the right local resources are in place, and even more importantly, ensure that what happens after the crisis is reported correctly. It’s the follow-up in the wraparound services that changes lives and families in a positive way after the crisis.”
This interview was edited for clarity and length.
Denmark will moderate the “Children’s Behavioral Health In and Outside of Schools” panel at the 2023 Texas State of Reform Health Policy Conference in Austin on March 9th. The panel will consist of local experts in child psychiatry and adolescent health, and will examine the rise of telehealth and the increased utilization of school-based behavioral health services. Registration for the event is available here.