Disparities in Diabetes and Hypertension Care for Individuals With Serious Mental Illness

This study highlights disparities in care for diabetes and hypertension for individuals with serious mental illness compared with the general Medicaid and Medicare populations.
Published Online: May 18, 2017
Junqing Liu, PhD; Jonathan Brown, PhD; Suzanne Morton, MPH; D.E.B. Potter, MS; Lisa Patton, PhD; Milesh Patel, MS; Rita Lewis, MPH; and Sarah Hudson Scholle, DrPH
ABSTRACT

Objectives: People with serious mental illnesses (SMI), including schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, and major depression, experience early mortality, partly due to comorbid physical health conditions such as diabetes and hypertension. This study examined the quality of diabetes and hypertension care for Medicaid and Medicare enrollees with SMI.

Study Design: We conducted a retrospective analysis of medical records and claims data from 3 health plans: a Medicaid plan for disabled adults, a Medicaid plan for low-income adults, and a Special Needs Plan for individuals dually enrolled in Medicaid and Medicare. The study population included 258 adults with SMI and diabetes and 241 adults with SMI and hypertension.

Methods: Existing quality measures for diabetes and hypertension from the Healthcare Effectiveness Data and Information Set (HEDIS) were adapted and applied to the SMI population for the 2012 calendar year. The rates of diabetes care and hypertension control for people with SMI were compared with national averages for Medicaid and Medicare managed care plans to examine disparities in care.

Results: Adults with SMI receive poor-quality care for diabetes and hypertension. Depending on the health plan, performance on the diabetes care and hypertension control HEDIS measures was 14 to 49 percentage points lower among the SMI population than the general Medicaid and Medicare populations. 

Conclusions: Findings highlight disparities in care for individuals with SMI compared with the general Medicaid and Medicare populations. Health plans demonstrated substantial room for improvement on almost all diabetes and hypertension HEDIS measures for the SMI population.


Takeaway Points

Health plans demonstrated substantial room for improvement on almost all Healthcare Effectiveness Data and Information Set (HEDIS) diabetes and hypertension measures for individuals with serious mental illness (SMI). 
  • The SMI population contributes to disproportionately high healthcare costs. 
  • Disparities in care for the SMI population is mostly driven by the lack of utilization of ambulatory medical care. 
  • The diabetes and hypertension outcome measures developed for this study fill critical gaps in quality measurement for the SMI population. 
  • Health plans and state agencies can use the measures to evaluate physical and mental health integration efforts and to monitor and improve the quality of care for the SMI population.
Individuals with a serious mental illness (SMI), including schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, and major depression, are at higher risk of chronic physical health conditions, such as diabetes and hypertension. This is partly due to poor diet, side effects of psychiatric medications, and lack of access to primary care.1 Study results suggest that roughly 15% of individuals with schizophrenia and 18% with major depression have diabetes compared with 9% of the general population.2-4 Nearly 40% of individuals with bipolar disorder and 48% of individuals with major depression experience hypertension compared with 30% of the general population.2,5,6 These conditions contribute to early mortality rates among individuals with SMI.7 

Hypertension and diabetes have often progressed by the time they are identified in individuals with SMI,8 who are less likely to receive high-quality care for these diseases.8,9 Data from clinical trials and national epidemiological studies suggest that at least 30% of individuals with schizophrenia or bipolar disorder receive poor medication treatment for diabetes and 62% receive poor medication treatment for hypertension.8-10   

Policy makers, health plans, and providers are learning that improving care quality and outcomes for the SMI population will require addressing chronic, comorbid physical health conditions.11-13 State Medicaid programs recognize that although only about 10% of Medicaid beneficiaries have SMI,14 their complex conditions make their care costly. Current programs and delivery system reforms promoting integration of primary and behavioral healthcare are promising. Many health plans are testing strategies for integrating and coordinating care for this population, with special attention on physical health.15-17 

However, there is limited published information on how well plans manage diabetes and hypertension care for individuals with SMI. As part of an effort to develop behavioral health quality measures for health plans, we pilot-tested measures focusing on diabetes and hypertension care for this population. This article presents measure performance for 2 Medicaid plans and a Medicaid and Medicare Dual-Eligible Special Needs Plan (Medicaid & Medicare D-SNP) that serves individuals enrolled in Medicaid and Medicare. We examined disparities in diabetes and hypertension care for those with SMI relative to the general Medicaid managed care population. Study findings are intended to provide both insight into the quality of care for the SMI population and a baseline for measuring progress. 

METHODS

Study Sites

To examine variation in measure performance, we conducted outreach through health plan trade organizations and used a list of health plans maintained by the National Committee for Quality Assurance (NCQA) to recruit geographically diverse plans that serve different types of Medicaid populations. Three plans (1 each in the Northeast, Midwest, and West regions) participated: a Medicaid plan for disabled adults (Medicaid-Disabled Plan), a Medicaid plan for low-income adults (Medicaid-Adult Plan), and a Dual-Eligible Special Needs Plan (D-SNP) for individuals enrolled in Medicaid and Medicare (Medicaid & Medicare D-SNP). Plan enrollment ranged from 13,000 (Medicaid Adult, Medicaid & Medicare D-SNP plans) to 131,000 (Medicaid-Disabled Plan). All 3 plans were responsible for medical, pharmacy, and mental health benefits; had access to physical and behavioral health records; have been in business for at least 20 years, and offer lines of business other than the products in this study. Two of the 3 have NCQA accreditation.  

Measures 

We adapted 2012 Healthcare Effectiveness Data and Information Set (HEDIS) measures for diabetes and hypertension to apply to the SMI population (see Table 1 for measure descriptions). We asked plans to report on member use of ambulatory care: the percentage of members with SMI who had an ambulatory physical healthcare visit in 2012.

Data Collection

Data were collected in 2013. Health plans followed standard procedures for gathering data to report HEDIS measures (all plans annually report diabetes and hypertension measures to NCQA). To identify a sample of members eligible for each measure, each plan used claims/encounter data from calendar year 2012 to identify members with SMI, diabetes (2011 claims were also used for diabetes), and hypertension. Plans also used claims data to report rates of ambulatory physical healthcare. 

Sampling 

Plan members were eligible if they: 1) were continuously enrolled from January 1 through December 31, 2012; 2) were 18 years or older during the same period; and 3) had at least 1 inpatient or 2 outpatient claims with a diagnosis of schizophrenia or bipolar disorder, or at least 1 inpatient claim with a diagnosis of major depression (previous studies included schizophrenia, bipolar, and major depression in the SMI population18,19; we required an inpatient stay for major depression to ensure that individuals included in the measure denominator had severe depression). Across plans, 884 members with SMI were identified (345 in Medicaid & Medicare D-SNP, 219 in Medicaid-Disabled, 320 in Medicaid-Adult). After identifying the entire SMI population, the plan assigned individuals into 2 denominator groups: 1) members who received at least 1 diabetes medication or had at least 1 claim for diabetes in 2011 or 2012 and 2) members diagnosed with hypertension in 2012. 

The final sample included 258 members with SMI and diabetes (135 in Medicaid & Medicare D-SNP, 40 in Medicaid-Disabled, 83 in Medicaid-Adult) and 241 members with SMI and hypertension (91 in Medicaid & Medicare D-SNP, 104 in Medicaid-Disabled, 46 in Medicaid-Adult). Members could qualify for both groups (64 members qualified for both). For both groups, the final sample included a fairly even distribution of individuals with schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, and major depression. 

Record Abstraction

Health plan staff manually reviewed members’ medical and behavioral health records (when available) for the same period. Two plans had access to electronic health records or other electronic systems and the third plan accessed hard copies of medical records from which they extracted information to calculate measures. Manual abstraction confirmed the hypertension diagnosis (to confirm eligibility for the measure denominator, per HEDIS specifications) and determined if the member received services consistent with the numerator requirement. Because behavioral health records provided little additional information, study results were based on medical records.

To examine interrater reliability, plan staff performed double abstraction for a subset of records (69 patients with diabetes, 67 patients with hypertension); interrater reliability (kappa =  0.65-1) was substantial or almost perfect.20 Plans provided de-identified data that did not require institutional review board approval. 

Analysis

We used plan data to calculate the percentage of members with SMI and diabetes and/or hypertension who received care consistent with measure specifications. To analyze potential disparities, we compared the SMI population’s average rate with the general population’s average HEDIS Medicaid rate in 2012 for the 3 plans using data in Quality Compass 2013 with the permission of the NCQA. We also compared rates of diabetes care and hypertension control for members with SMI, with the HEDIS national averages for the same measures, which included roughly 180 Medicaid and 500 Medicare managed care plans.21 

RESULTS

Diabetes Measure Performance 

Average health plan performance among the SMI population ranged from 13.2% for eye exams to 48.0% for glycated hemoglobin (A1C) testing (Table 2). Variation was widest on medical attention for nephropathy (a 55-percentage-point difference across plans) and smallest for eye exams (a 15-percentage-point difference across plans). 

The plan-average HEDIS Medicaid rates for the general population, compared with the SMI population’s mean performance rates on the diabetes indicators, were 16 percentage points (A1C testing) to 45 percentage points (eye exam) lower. Compared with 2012 HEDIS national average Medicaid rates, mean performance rates on the diabetes indicators were 14 percentage points (A1C <8%) to 40 percentage points (eye exam) lower for the SMI population. When looking at 2012 HEDIS national average Medicare rates, the average rates across plans on the diabetes indicators were 19 percentage points (blood pressure control) to 49 percentage points (medical attention for diabetic nephropathy) lower for the SMI population.

Controlling Hypertension Measure Performance 

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