Health
5:20 pm
Wed March 27, 2013

Mental Health, Physical Health: $10M Program Looks to Help Both

Texas is trying to help some Medicaid recipients with behavioral disorders improve their health. 

The state’s health department has embarked on a $10 million dollar project aimed at preventing people with mental health or substance abuse issues from developing chronic diseases.

The Wellness Incentives and Navigation – or WIN – project randomly chose about 1,200 non-elderly Medicaid recipients in the Houston area to participate in the study. 

Half of the participants got normal Medicaid benefits. The other half developed an individual health plan. They got in-person health training and support, and a $1,150 stipend.

The stipend can be spent on things not covered by Medicaid, like gym memberships, transportation to a gym, or programs to quit smoking.

“If we’re only treating symptoms and not getting people to engage and become that informed, healthy patient, then we’re missing the boat. We’re wasting healthcare dollars," said Sam Shore, with the Texas Department of State Health services.

“When they leave they’re going to go back to same things because of environmental pressures on them, but also nothing inside has changed inside to cause them to walk a different path," he said at a mental health conference Wednesday at the University of Texas.

Unlike other states in the program, Texas is only focusing on people with behavioral disorders. On average, Texans with behavioral disorders die 29 years earlier than the state population as a whole, according to state health services.

Dina Stoner, a Senior Policy Advisor with state health services and one of the architects behind the WIN project, says people with behavioral disorders are more likely to have experienced trauma as a child, such as physical abuse or the death of a parent.

Stoner says that trauma can lead to unhealthy behaviors, which leads to the development of a chronic disease.

“This costs money, it’s destructive to people’s lives, and it reduces their ability to participate in society," Stoner said.

Stoner says it’s too early to tell if the program will save the Medicaid system money overall.

Right now the focus is to see if the WIN project encourages participants to use preventative care, rather than emergency care.

“A number of our participants have goals to lose weight, manage their blood pressure, manage their diabetes and so forth. And so we are measuring their progress to those goals," Stoner said.

The project will last until 2015. The first year of results will be released this summer.