SAMHSA’s Efforts Related to Behavioral Health Equity

Learn how SAMHSA’s Office of Behavioral Health Equity oversees and coordinates agency efforts to reduce behavioral health disparities for diverse populations.

In accordance with the Affordable Care Act, SAMHSA established an Office of Behavioral Health Equity (OBHE) to coordinate agency efforts to reduce behavioral health disparities for diverse populations. OBHE is organized around five key strategies: data, communication, policy, workforce development, and customer service/technical assistance. OBHE seeks to impact SAMHSA policy and initiatives by:

  • Creating a more strategic focus on racial, ethnic, and lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and questioning (LGBTQ) populations in SAMHSA investments
  • Using a data-informed quality improvement approach to address racial and ethnic disparities in SAMHSA programs
  • Building on the Affordable Care Act’s attention to health disparities to influence how SAMHSA does its work, including grant-making operations and policy development

In response to the Department of Health and Human Services’ (HHS) Secretarial priority in the HHS Action Plan to Reduce Racial and Ethnic Disparities to “develop disparity impact statements in grantee programs,” OBHE developed a disparity impact strategy being implemented in SAMHSA’s discretionary and block grant portfolio. The disparity strategy framework focuses on a data-driven approach to examining (among the grantee population served) access to services, services used, and outcomes of the services, which are separated out by race and ethnicity, and, when possible, sexual orientation.

SAMHSA requires all grantees to submit a behavioral health disparities impact statement identifying disparate populations in their service areas. The statement must also describe a plan of how grantees will use data to monitor disparities and implement strategies to improve access, service use, and outcomes among the disparate populations. The quality improvement plan must include the implementation of the enhanced National Standards for Culturally and Linguistically Appropriate Services (CLAS) in Health and Health Care, a blueprint to help organizations improve health care quality in serving America’s diverse communities, which was released in 2013 by HHS. SAMHSA’s disparity impact strategy will allow the agency to understand the populations being served by grantees and to support behavioral health equity efforts across its grant portfolio.

Building on the Affordable Care Act’s health equity efforts, OBHE has coordinated activities to support outreach to and enrollment of diverse populations. A significant factor in access to behavioral health care is insurance coverage. People of color constitute more than half of all Americans who are uninsured. The Affordable Care Act seeks to make health insurance more affordable and accessible; however, social, environmental, and economic barriers can make it difficult for people of color to access information about health reform, enroll in Affordable Care Act programs, and maintain insurance coverage. Individuals with behavioral health conditions also face challenges with obtaining and keeping health insurance coverage. Identifying and implementing culturally and linguistically appropriate strategies for reaching diverse populations with behavioral health conditions and increasing awareness of the benefits of health care reform are critical to optimizing enrollment in Medicaid and the Marketplaces and to reducing behavioral health disparities.

Developing a workforce capable of effectively serving diverse populations is also critical to achieving behavioral health equity. OBHE coordinates the National Network to Eliminate Disparities in Behavioral Health (NNED), which brings together, in a virtual network structure, community-based organizations addressing the behavioral health needs of diverse racial, ethnic, and LGBTQ populations. The network supports information exchange and peer-to-peer training and technical assistance for its member organizations and affiliates. The NNED:

  • Coordinates the sharing of knowledge and training of cultural, indigenous, and community-based best practices through learning collaboratives and communities of practice
  • Fosters new collaborative partnerships to identify and spread exemplary practices or policies that reduce disparities
  • Leverages resources through partnering and collaborative initiatives
  • Fosters research practice partnerships
  • Supports the adaptation of evidence-supported practices for diverse populations

For more information, visit SAMHSA’s Office of Behavioral Health Equity webpage.

Last Updated: 10/09/2014