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Provider Shortages and Limited Availability of Behavioral Health Services in New Mexico's Medicaid Managed Care


Medicaid plays a critical role in providing behavioral healthcare. Nationally, Medicaid is the single largest payor for behavioral healthcare. In addition, Medicaid enrollees experience a higher rate of behavioral health disorders-which includes both mental health disorders and substance use disorders-than the general population. In spite of the importance of treating such disorders, many Medicaid enrollees encounter significant barriers when accessing behavioral health treatment. The need for behavioral health services is particularly pronounced in New Mexico-a State that has among the highest rates for suicide and deaths from overdose in the Nation. The Office of Inspector General received a congressional request to look into concerns about behavioral health provider shortages and the availability of care for Medicaid managed care enrollees; these enrollees account for most of New Mexico's Medicaid population.


We first analyzed State Medicaid managed care data to determine the number of behavioral health providers serving New Mexico's managed care enrollees by county. Next, we conducted a survey of 53 selected behavioral health organizations (BHOs) to determine the extent to which these organizations are able to meet the needs of the State's Medicaid managed care enrollees. In addition, we interviewed selected behavioral health providers, State Medicaid agency officials, and key stakeholders. We analyzed these data to identify challenges and promising initiatives for improving the availability of behavioral health services for Medicaid managed care enrollees.


Many counties in New Mexico have few licensed behavioral health providers serving Medicaid managed care enrollees. These behavioral health providers are unevenly distributed across the State, with rural and frontier counties having fewer providers and prescribers per 1,000 Medicaid managed care enrollees. Further, a significant number of New Mexico's licensed behavioral health providers do not provide services to Medicaid managed care enrollees.

In addition, most of the State's licensed behavioral health providers serving Medicaid managed care enrollees work in BHOs-which include federally qualified health centers and community mental health centers; however, these organizations report challenges with finding and retaining staff, as well as ensuring transportation for enrollees. As a result, these organizations cannot always ensure timely access for enrollees seeking behavioral health services. These organizations also report difficulty arranging or making referrals for services that they do not provide largely because of the lack of providers. In addition, they report challenges with continuity of care for enrollees, citing limited care coordination and a lack of integration of primary and behavioral healthcare, provider shortages, and barriers to sharing health information, such as a lack of access to broadband service. Nonetheless, BHOs highlight promising initiatives to increase the availability of behavioral health services, including open-access scheduling, treatment first, care integration, and telehealth.


Although this report focuses on New Mexico, it provides insights into challenges that are likely shared by other States providing behavioral health services to Medicaid enrollees. Therefore, we recommend that CMS identify States that have limited availability of behavioral health services and develop strategies and share information with them to ensure that Medicaid managed care enrollees have timely access to these services. We also recommend that the New Mexico Human Services Department expand New Mexico's behavioral health workforce that serves Medicaid managed care enrollees. It should also improve access to services by reviewing its standards governing access to care and determine whether additional behavioral health standards are needed, as well as increasing access to transportation, access to broadband, and the use of telehealth. Lastly, it should improve the effectiveness of services by increasing adoption of electronic health records, identifying and sharing information about strategies to improve care coordination, expanding initiatives to integrate behavioral and primary healthcare, and sharing information about open-access scheduling and the Treat First Clinical Model. Both CMS and the New Mexico Human Services Department concurred with our recommendations.