This edition of “5 Things We’re Watching” features a conversation with four state leaders on what the pandemic has taught us about health care in Maryland. We also have a Q&A on integrating behavioral health into primary care, coverage of the Maryland Oral Health Task Force’s recent meeting, and a video interview with Angelo Edge, CEO of Aetna Better Health of Maryland.
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State of Reform
1. BHIPP shares plans for improving BH integration
Increasing demand for behavioral health services and an ongoing workforce shortage are top concerns in Maryland, especially for the state’s pediatric population. Organizations like the Maryland Behavioral Health Integration in Pediatric Primary Care, administered by the University of Maryland School of Medicine, are using a multi-pronged approach to integrate mental health resources into the primary care sphere.
In this conversation, Kelly Coble, BHIPP Executive Program Director, outlines solutions that can help bridge the gap for children seeking behavioral health services, while also reducing referrals to high-acuity care. Solutions include creating collaborative payment models for primary care and behavioral heath providers and creating region-specific networks of care.
2. What COVID has taught us about Maryland health care
During last month’s State of Reform conference, four experts came together to discuss a unified, long-term approach to improving health in the post-COVID world. The panel covered a broad range of efforts to improve care including strengthening care coordination, improving data utilization, and focusing on the social determinants of health.
Newly appointed House Health and Government Operations Committee Chair Del. Joseline Peña-Melnyk focused her comments on legislative efforts she is pursuing to improve access to care for underserved communities. “As we think about health care in Maryland, we have done an amazing job in reducing the number of uninsured,” said Peña-Melnyk. “But the fact is that there are still 350,000 people uninsured, and 275,000 of them are undocumented. As we move forward, think about a path where we cover everyone, because Maryland is a rich state and it is simply the right thing to do as well.”
3. What They’re Watching: Angelo Edge, Aetna Better Health of Maryland
Aetna Better Health of Maryland is looking to address the social determinants of health for vulnerable Marylanders from as many different perspectives as possible, according to CEO Angelo Edge. He points to research that indicates that about 85% of an individual’s overall health is influenced by factors that happen outside of a doctor’s office.
“Food insecurities, lack of housing, lack of clothing, lack of non-emergent medical transportation—they all have an impact on not only that individual’s physical well-being, but also their mental health.” Through their work with community organizations, Aetna is offering technical and funding support for low-cost housing projects across the state and is supporting training centers for the future health care workforce.
4. Oral Health Task Force discusses access to care
At the Maryland Oral Health Task Force’s meeting earlier this month, policymakers and representatives from dental associations and dental schools heard presentations on two focus areas: increasing the number of dental therapists and community dental health workers in the state, and improving senior dental care. Speakers from Minnesota, which was the first state to authorize the licensing of dental therapists in 2009, discussed the impact of these providers in filling gaps in dental care.
The task force’s senior population workgroup presented a list of recommendations to improve dental care for seniors including expanding Medicare Part C to more rural counties in Maryland and adding dental coverage for seniors to the state marketplace. They also presented potential policy changes, such as mandating that long-term care facilities have a dentist on medical staff and conducting more comprehensive oral exams.
5. Maryland ranks 7th in nation for health care during the pandemic
Maryland led the Mid-Atlantic region for best health care system performance during the COVID pandemic, according to a recent analysis from the Commonwealth Fund. The report—which evaluated 56 measurements related to access and affordability, prevention and treatment, and avoidable hospital use and costs, among others—ranked Maryland’s performance 7th best in the nation.
Maryland received particularly high rankings for its low hospital staffing shortages (ranked 1st), adult smoking numbers (4th), and employer-sponsored insurance spending per enrollee (2nd). Some of Maryland’s poorest rankings were for the percent of adults with mental illness reporting unmet needs (46th) and drug overdose deaths per 100,000 (45th).