Managed Behavioral Health Services for Children Under Carve-Out Contracts

Published in: Psychiatric Services, v. 49, no. 8, Aug. 1998, p. 1054-1058

Posted on RAND.org on January 01, 1998

by Carole Roan Gresenz, Xiaofeng Liu, Roland Sturm

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Service costs and utilization patterns of children in carved-out behavioral health care plans were examined and compared with those of adults. Twelve-month data on utilization and costs of behavioral health care from one managed behavioral health care carve-out organization, United Behavioral Health, were examined for three age groups of children--birth to five years, six to 12 years, and 13 to 17 years--and for adults. More than 600,000 enrollees in 108 different plans were included in the data. Rates of use and intensity of use were examined separately by type of service--inpatient, outpatient, and partial hospitalization. The study found that only a small number of all enrollees used any behavioral health care services--4.2 percent used outpatient services, .3 percent used inpatient services, and .2 percent used partial hospitalization services. Adolescents were more than twice as likely as adults and about seven times as likely as children aged 6 to 12 to use inpatient services. Adolescents also had a slightly higher probability of using outpatient care than adults, while younger children had lower rates of outpatient use than adolescents or adults. Adolescents were also more likely than adults and other children to have very high costs of inpatient care (mean costs=$8,975 for adolescents and $4,750 for adults). Adults were more likely than other groups to have higher outpatient costs ($640 for adults and $513 for all children). The finding that children, and adolescents in particular, are more likely to have very high inpatient costs compared with adults implies that they may benefit most from the elimination of caps on mental health care costs covered by insurance. This profile of children's behavioral health care utilization patterns can be useful to policy makers in considering expansions in children's health insurance coverage.

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