Continuing a history of inequity, private insurers have placed restrictions and limitations on coverage for mental health conditions making access to treatment services increasingly more challenging. A state-by-state advocacy movement has led to the enactment of various state laws to require mental health parity. With the Clinton Administration’s attempt at health care reform, mental health parity became part of the health reform debate and led to the passage of the Mental Health Parity Act of 1996. The inadequacies of this law were partially corrected in the Mental Health Parity and Addiction Equity Act of 2008, which included mandated coverage for substance use conditions. The Obama Administration in 2011 included these provisions in the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, which does not require compliance monitoring nor does it provide a definition for “mental health,” which leaves insurers to define it and hence determine what coverage will actually be available.
The past two decades have witnessed a surge in the growth of initiatives and funding to weave physical and behavioral health care, particularly with identification of the high costs incurred by their comorbidity. In response, a robust body of evidence now demonstrates the effectiveness of what is referred to as collaborative care. A wide range of models transverse the developmental lifespan, diagnostic categories, plus practice settings (e.g., primary care, specialty medical care, community-based health centers, clinics, and schools). This article will discuss the foundational elements of collaborative care, including the broad sweep of associated definitions and related concepts. Contemporary models will be reviewed along with identified contextual topics for practice. Special focus will be placed on the diverse implications collaborative care poses for the health and behavioral health workforce, especially social workers.