Colorado committee approves bill to allocate $9 million to youth mental health

April 21, 2021

By: Eli Kirshbaum

Article originally found in the State Of Reform.

The Colorado House Public and Behavioral Health Committee today voted to advance Rep. Dafna Michaelson Jenet’s bill to allocate $9 million from federal stimulus funds to support the mental health needs of Colorado youth. The “Rapid Mental Health Response for Colorado Youth” bill would create a temporary youth mental health services program within the state’s office of behavioral health to administer the program.

Michaelson Jenet introduced her bill to the committee:

“What this bill does, in essence, is give every school-aged child in Colorado the opportunity to take an online screening, and if necessary, be referred to a mental health provider — ideally within their insurance network.”

If the bill becomes law, Colorado youths could receive a free online mental health screening. Providers can also be reimbursed for up to three youth mental health visits — potentially more, pending available funding.

Michaelson Jenet said the child’s family would be included in this referral process to discuss insurance, but clarified the program is available to uninsured youth as well.

The bill’s other House sponsor, Rep. Kevin Van Winkle, added:

“One of the things I love about this bill is it really brings together the parents with the students with the mental health professionals, all working together to ensure that our kids are getting the mental health care that they are asking for.”

Mental Health Colorado ranks the state 48th in the country in an overall measure of the mental health of its youth. The same data found Colorado to have the highest prevalence of youth alcohol dependence and illicit drug use in the country.

COVID-19 has expectedly only made the issue worse, with the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) reporting a significant increase in mental health-related emergency room visits among youth during the pandemic. The text of the bill explicitly mentions the effects of COVID-19 on Colorado’s already high mental health needs. According to the bill, the state crisis service hotline has received a 30% increase in calls and texts since the beginning of the pandemic.

Van Winkle spoke to this:

“As Colorado transitions beyond the COVID-19 pandemic, the state’s youth need the support of their parents, families, communities and mental health professionals beyond the school walls to address the pain, trauma and loneliness that they’ve experienced over the last year.”

Committee member Rep. Richard Holtorf raised concerns about how long the program would last. Since the program isn’t ongoing, he asked the sponsors how youth will continue to receive care after their three complimentary visits.

Michaelson Jenet responded that once the program is implemented and its funding is depleted, the sponsors may return to the Legislature to request an extension of the program. She also hopes the health insurance options the program will introduce to some children will serve as a form of ongoing support to them after their three free visits.

The committee passed the bill 11-1 — Rep. Iman Jodeh was absent, thus making her the only member to not provide a “yes” vote.