New Research Alliances in the Era of Managed Care

Published in: Journal of Mental Health Policy and Economics, v. 2, no. 3, Sep. 1999, p. 107-110

Posted on RAND.org on January 01, 1999

by William Goldman, Roland Sturm, Joyce McCulloch

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BACKGROUND: The rise of managed behavioral health care in the United States was accompanied by reductions in costs, which has shifted the policy debate from concerns about rising costs to questions of universal access, mental health benefits at parity with medical benefits and quality of care. To meet these new challenges, managed care organizations, the purchasers of health care and academic services researchers must work together in new ways. AIMS OF THE STUDY: This paper discusses collaborative efforts between a for-profit managed care firm, academia and purchasers of health care coverage to study parity for mental health and substance abuse and how this effort has become part of a research strategy to inform policy. Historical, strategic and methodological issues are presented. METHODS: Case Study. RESULTS: Although the benefits from cooperative research are substantial, there are severe hurdles. Managed care organizations often have data that could answer pressing policy questions, yet these data are rarely used by researchers because it is difficult to obtain access and because analyzing the data requires computing facilities and skills that are not common in health services research. In turn, managed care organizations can learn how to design and implement more informative data systems that eventually lead to more cost-effective care, but there often are more immediately pressing business considerations and sometimes resistance to outside scrutiny. Important features that made this cooperation successful include strong support from the senior management in the company, including complete access to their extensive databases, and established funding for a managed care research center by the National Institute of Mental Health. CONCLUSION: This paper illustrates the potential of collaborative research. New research challenges, such as the linkages between quality and cost-effectiveness in actual practice settings, can only be met successfully if we build alliances among payors, managed care companies and academic researchers.

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