DENVER — When the elections wrapped up, it became clear the make-up of the State Senate and House changed with a new governor in office — and groups that advocate for more mental health resources saw an opportunity.
They set out on a legislative journey to help families access more resources by changing Colorado laws.
The session went their way.
Nancy VanDeMark, the interim president and CEO at Mental Health Colorado, guided us through the eight pieces of legislation that passed this session and are now Colorado law.
This bill focuses on health professionals in Colorado schools.
"Somewhere around 70% of our schools in the state do not meet the nationally recommended ratios for health professionals to staff," VanDeMark said. "This program is very important to help schools provide access to health professionals that students need in order to promote mental health in their schools."
This bill would expand the "School Health Professionals Grant Program" and add an additional $3 million to increase the number of school health professionals.
This bill focuses on insurance coverage and bolstering what are called "parity laws."
"House Bill 1269 is a bill that requires mental health services be treated in the same way as physical health," VanDeMark said.
"We heard from families. They were putting $85,000 to $90,000 on their credit cards," VanDeMark said.
She said this was when families thought insurance would cover the treatment costs, but realized they wouldn’t or their approval for coverage was denied.
According to the bill's fiscal note found online, the bill would require the following:
"This bill requires coverage of behavioral, mental health and substance use disorder services in parity with physical health services provided through private health insurance and Medicaid. It will increase state expenditures and create a diversion from the General Fund on an ongoing basis. It may also increase state and local expenditures related to employee health insurance."
This bill asks the Department of Health Care Policy and Financing as well as the Department of Human Services to improve access to behavioral health services for people at risk of being institutionalized.
Mental Health Colorado said the bill would create a behavioral health safety-net system that wouldn't turn people away because they are “hard to serve” or are involved in other systems like child welfare or the criminal justice system.
It would also ask the state to find ways to expand the number of providers who accept Medicaid.
Senate Bill 19-223 focuses on helping people found not competent to stand trial because of mental illness get treatment sooner.
The bill summary online says it would also require the following:
- Develop an electronic system to track the status of defendants for whom competency to proceed has been raised.
- Convene a group of experts to create a placement guideline for use in determining where restoration services should be provided.
- Partner with an institution of higher education to develop and provide training in competency evaluations.
This bill puts more money toward housing and support services for people experiencing homelessness and dealing with addiction.
It also would direct settlement money or damages from opioid-related litigation toward an opioid crisis recovery fund.
The bill would also set up safeguards for recovery and sober living homes.
According to the fiscal note found online associated with this bill, it would allow someone 18 or older to set up a behavioral health order that dictates what kind of treatment they would prefer, as well as their behavioral health history to be used at a time that person might not be able to make that decision.
It essentially allows people to dictate what treatment they would like in the same way they can for physical medical treatment.
This bill overlaps with focusing on the opioid epidemic.
It looks to expand substance use treatment in rural parts of Colorado and areas that don't have enough access to treatment facilities.
Part of that is also tracking the number of available beds for treatment.
"House Bill 1287 allows the state to establish a tracking system, a statewide tracking, for psychiatric bed capacity, as well as residential beds for substance abuse treatment and medication-assisted treatment for substance abuse," VanDeMark said.
This bill focuses on high-risk women and youth.
It bolsters an existing program for high-risk pregnant women dealing with addiction by focusing on fear and stigma around addiction and mental illness and the lack of appropriate treatment options for moms and their kids.
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