Within the public health industry, attorneys often craft contracts, policies and legislation that change the health care delivery system and directly affect patient care. Benjamin Runkle, Associate General Counsel for AHCCCS, received the 2017 Arizona Behavioral Health Cultural Heritage Award from the ASU Center for Applied Behavioral Health Policy for his efforts in improving American Indians’ access to behavioral health services.
Across the industry, health care professionals are seeing the improved results of integrating physical and behavioral services in order to treat patients, mind, and body, as a whole. Arizona’s state health service agencies took a major step toward integration in 2016 when the Division of Behavioral Health Services merged with AHCCCS. Combining the payment structures for separate behavioral health services into an existing physical healthcare delivery system posed a unique administrative challenge for Arizona’s American Indian population. As AHCCCS members, American Indians can participate in managed care networks or a fee-for-service system.
Mr. Runkle, as part of a cross-divisional team of AHCCCS personnel, worked with tribal officials to reduce the administrative burden on tribal programs that coordinate behavioral health services. He was instrumental in negotiating and drafting streamlined intergovernmental agreements focused on facilitating American Indians’ access to behavioral health services and crisis intervention programs. The agreements transferred administrative burdens (processing service authorizations and maintaining provider networks) to AHCCCS so that tribal behavioral health programs could dedicate more resources directly to people in need.
“Our agency is progressive and proactive about balancing the needs of members while making health care financially feasible for the next generation.”
“It took considerable effort,” said Runkle, “but in the end, we were able to construct a system that freed providers to focus their resources on delivering direct services to members.” In short, Mr. Runkle, the AHCCCS team, and tribal officials made behavioral health services more accessible to Arizona’s American Indian populations, including members enrolled with Tribal Regional Behavioral Health Authorities, Tribal Arizona Long Term Care System, and those receiving services from Indian Health Services and tribally owned and/or operated 638 facilities.
Formerly in private practice at a local Phoenix law firm, Mr. Runkle says that his move to public health care policy work has been personally rewarding. “I feel good about what AHCCCS is doing and I’m confident in the direction we’re heading. Our agency is progressive and proactive about balancing the needs of current members while making health care financially sustainable for the next generation,” he said.
Beyond his work in health care policy, Mr. Runkle is an advocate of behavioral health awareness within his community. For many years he has been a supporter of Teen Lifeline, a crisis and support line for teens, parents, and teachers, and currently serves on its Board of Directors.
According to the ASU Center for Applied Behavioral Health Policy website, 44 individuals and agencies in Arizona have been recognized since 2005 for their significant contributions to improvements in, access to, and impact of behavioral health care. The Cultural Heritage Award recognizes an individual or agency that has brought cultural distinction to the behavioral health field.