Substance Use 'Screening and Brief Intervention' Now Covered by Many Plans

By Stephen Miller Apr 18, 2008
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Drug- and alcohol-related "screening and brief intervention" (SBI) is a standardized medical technique that's proved effective for early identification and treatment of substance abuse, according to many specialists.

The American Medical Association and the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services approved medical billing codes for SBI services effective January 2007. One upshot: 58 percent of U.S. health plans now cover these services, helping employers to tackle substance abuse problems at their outset, according to an annual survey of American health plans conducted by evalue8 and the National Business Coalition on Health.

In addition, the federal government's Office of Personnel Management recently announced that the 5.6 million employees with federal health insurance will be covered for screening and brief intervention services.

“This year, health plans understood that early identification and treatment of substance use problems is important to employers," says Eric Goplerud, Ph.D., director of Ensuring Solutions to Alcohol Problems, based at The George Washington University Medical Center. "We now have evidence that the plans are stepping up to meet employer expectations.”

“Most Americans who engage in risky and problem substance use never receive services that could help them avoid serious health and family problems, including addiction,” adds Dr. Richard L. Brown, a family physician and leader of an effort to implement SBI throughout Wisconsin.

“SBI prevents more disease and injury than most routine preventive services, such as screening for high blood pressure, high cholesterol and various cancers," Brown explains. "Bringing SBI into the mainstream of health care will produce significant economic savings and, most importantly, improve the lives of millions of Americans.”

Advocates of SBI say it has proven to be effective in reducing alcohol use among non-dependent patients in a wide range of medical settings, and that the American Medical Association and Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services recognized this effectiveness with their approval of new current procedural terminology codes (99408 for screening and 99409 for brief intervention) and Medicare codes (G0396 and G0397).

“I have been pleasantly surprised by the widespread acceptance of the new SBI codes,” says Dr. Doug Moeller, a medical director with McKesson Health Solutions, a seller of medical claims auditing software. “I expected a longer ramp-up period for new services like these.”

Promoting Early Intervention

Below are some of the health plans that have committed to paying for screening and brief intervention (SBI) services, when covered under particular plan documents, using the medical billing codes that became effective in January 2007.

  • AETNA (nationwide).
  • CIGNA (nationwide).
  • Anthem Blue Cross and Blue Shield (Colorado, Connecticut, Indiana, Kentucky, Ohio, Maine, Missouri, Nevada, New Hampshire, Virginia and Wisconsin).
  • Blue Cross of California.
  • Blue Cross Blue Shield in Georgia.
  • Blue Cross Blue Shield of Minnesota.
  • Empire Blue Cross Blue Shield in New York.
  • Independence Blue Cross.
  • HealthPlus (Michigan).

Source: The George Washington University Medical Center

Stephen Milleris manager of SHRM Online's Compensation & Benefits Focus Area.

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