Legislature tackles mental-health concerns in new laws

Governor signs Brown’s ‘Youth Behavioral Health Protection Act’

This year an increasing number of teen suicides and headline-grabbing actions by those suffering from mental illness spurred state lawmakers into passing a number of bills targeted at addressing mental-health concerns. Last week, the governor signed several of those measures.

Among them was Senate Bill 5779, a bill sponsored by Sen. Sharon Brown that is aimed at better integrating mental- and behavioral-health services with pediatric primary-care services.

“Nearly one in five kids is affected by behavioral-health disorders; yet, eighty percent of patients do not receive the behavioral health care they deserve,” explained Brown, R-Kennewick. “This new law will help kids get the care they need by having integrated behavioral-health consultants provide necessary care at times of crisis.”

The Youth Behavioral Health Protection Act, as the new law is known, passed April 10 by a vote of 94-3 in the House of Representatives. The bill was passed unanimously March 1 by the Senate. It will require the state Health Care Authority to review payment codes available to health plans and providers related to behavioral health and adjust payment rules as needed to facilitate integration of behavioral health with primary care.

The new law also requires the HCA to oversee the coordination of mental-health resources and services for Medicaid-eligible children.

Brown described the law as a way to streamline care and better identify the mental-health needs of children, who often go untreated for serious and even life-threatening behavioral conditions.

On Friday, the governor also signed House Bill 1713, which implements the recommendations from the Children’s Mental Health Work Group created in 2016. Under the new law, sponsored by Rep. Tana Senn, D-Mercer Island, in the House and Sen. Judy Warnick, R-Moses Lake, in the Senate:

  • HCA is required to coordinate mental-health resources for Medicaid-eligible children, maintain an adequate provider network, and require provider payment for depression screenings for youth aged 12-18 and maternal-depression screenings for mothers of children up to 6 months old;
  • Behavioral-health organizations must reimburse providers for providing mental-health services through telemedicine;
  • The Department of Early Learning will establish a child-care consultation program for children who present behavioral concerns or symptoms of trauma; and
  • The Office of the Superintendent of Public Instruction is required to establish pilot projects in two educational service districts to deliver and coordinate children’s mental-health and substance use-disorder services.

“According to testimony on the bill, nearly 20 percent of children on Medicaid suffer with mental-health issues, and yet only four percent of those children get treatment through outpatient behavioral services,” said Brown.  “What we now know, and what this new law aims to correct, is that children are not getting the care they need to address these concerns at the earliest stages. Early detection and treatment can be achieved by better integrating behavioral- and mental-health services into a more effective system.”

House Bill 1819, also signed Friday, will reduce documentation and paperwork requirements so providers can focus on services to improve children’s mental health and safety.

All three measures will go into effect on July 23.