In 2015, 43 people in the Tri-Cities died by suicide. Ten of them were only 15-24 years old. And according to the Youth Suicide Prevention Program, each week in Washington State, an average of two youth die by suicide. Another 17 are hospitalized as a result of injuries sustained while attempting suicide. For Sen. Sharon Brown the issue of youth suicide is one the Legislature can no longer ignore. A community discussion on teen suicide that began last year has now resulted in landmark legislation to bring help and care to those in need.
On Wednesday, the Senate unanimously passed a bill sponsored by Brown aimed at better integrating mental and behavioral health services with pediatric primary-care services.
“You need prevention, but to get prevention you need access to care,” said Brown, R-Kennewick. “This bill is a result of community conversations around the disproportionate number of child suicides. I worked with Dr. Thatcher Felt from the American Academy of Pediatrics to identify ways to streamline access. One way to accomplish this is to have a mental-health professional embedded in a primary-care practice.”
The Youth Behavioral Health Protection Act, as the bill would be known should it become law, would 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 review would be completed by August.
The HCA would also be required to communicate with health-care providers to increase awareness of behavioral-health reimbursement options, standardize billing practices, and reduce billing errors. In addition, the HCA would provide increased reimbursements for behavioral-health services provided to patients in primary-care settings.
Brown described the bill 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.
“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,” Brown explained. “This bill will help kids get the care they need by having integrated behavioral-health consultants provide necessary care at times of crisis.”
The bill now moves to the House of Representatives, where Brown urged members of that chamber to act immediately.
In comments made during the debate on the bill, Brown quoted a friend, Scott Smith, who posted on social media:
“Spring is the leading time of year for suicide. That’s because while the rest of the world is celebrating better weather and new beginnings, those battling depression are unable to begin another round. They’ve soldiered through back-to-school, the holidays, the bleakness of winter – no doubt in hopes that they’ll be rewarded for their endurance. But happiness doesn’t come – and it must seem then that it never will.
“In fact, four young friends of my friends ended their own lives recently, leaving behind pain that cannot be measured, fathomed, or put into words.”
Brown added, “The time to act is now.”