BATON ROUGE, La. (AP) - A new report finds Louisiana is one of the states with the highest prevalence of mental illness and lowest rates of access to care.

The national Mental Health Association's 2015 report ranks Louisiana 47th on the survey, which includes 50 states and the District of Columbia. The states ranking below it are Washington, Nevada, Mississippi and Arizona.

The Advocate reports the report comes as the Jindal administration launches a new approach to the state's delivery of behavioral health services through its Medicaid program.

No longer will one private company manage the care of Medicaid patients with drug addiction, schizophrenia, bipolar disorders and other behavioral health problems. Their care will be covered by the five insurance companies the state pays to manage the medical care of about 980,000 out of the state's 1.4 million Medicaid enrollees. With the expansion, the insurance companies will be overseeing 1.09 million Medicaid lives at a projected cost of $4.33 billion.

'You treat the whole person from the head to the toe,' said Dr. Darrell Montgomery, who has worked on the transition for the state health agency. 'It will be in their best interest to have one managed care entity to manage all care.'

There is a better chance of catching someone with behavioral health issues earlier and getting them the treatment they need with the new arrangement, he said.

'It's the merger of physical and mental health we believe that's actually going to help our consumers because it's going to increase their access to care,' said Brittany Howard, director of the Mental Health Association of Louisiana. A kind of one-stop shop, she said.

Gov.-elect John Bel Edwards' plan to move forward with Medicaid expansion next year will also improve access to a whole new group of people - low-income working adults, Howard said.

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