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Brien Center President and CEO M. Christine Macbeth welcomes Baker proposal to support behavioral health

Christine Macbeth and woman holding plaque

Brien Center President and CEO M. Christine Macbeth, right, says recent discussions around supporting behavioral health are a welcome development.

Addressing historically low reimbursement rates for behavioral health, according to Brien Center President and CEO M. Christine Macbeth, is long overdue.

And a proposal unveiled Tuesday by Gov. Charlie Baker would be “a strong first step” in that direction, she said.

The proposed legislation would require greater primary and behavioral health care spending by providers and insurance companies, while also aiming to rein in the rising costs of health care and prescription drugs. Separately, the Massachusetts Senate has supported legislation to improve insurance coverage for behavioral health care, as well as another bill that seeks to tackle prescription drug costs.

Reimbursement rates that fail to cover the costs of care have led to what Macbeth identifies as a workforce crisis and an access-to-care crisis. Inadequate pay for clinicians contributes to turnover, and long waitlists can prevent patients from accessing care.

Low reimbursement rates, Macbeth said, are the reason why clinicians can make more in schools, hospitals or private practice than at community-based centers such as The Brien Center.

“Improved reimbursement ensures that individuals can seek careers in community-based behavioral health and stay in the field,” she said. “Additional reimbursement allows for the higher compensation that is needed to attract staff.”

Macbeth also sees better reimbursement rates as the starting point for increasing access and quality. She added that further changes also can help community-based providers, including offering student loan relief to clinicians and reducing paperwork requirements that she said can be burdensome.

The coronavirus pandemic has led to greater attention to the importance of behavioral health services. Macbeth said she hopes that recent discussions can mean that “mental illness and addiction treatment will someday soon reach the same level of awareness and funding as other illnesses.”

“Our current workforce crisis has inevitably led to an access-to-care crisis, with everyone except those experiencing urgent emergencies placed on long waiting lists,” Macbeth said. “In the midst of a terrifying pandemic that has joined the deadly opioid epidemic, our workforce crisis limits us to serving fewer clients. Yet, a greater number of people need us now more than ever.”

Danny Jin, a Report for America corps member, is The Eagle’s Statehouse news reporter. He can be reached at djin@berkshireeagle.com, @djinreports on Twitter and 413-496-6221.

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