Meghan Lukens: Dismantling barriers in our community for behavioral health services
Mental health matters. It matters to our youth, our older generations and everyone in between.
Just as we need to prioritize physical health care in Colorado, we also need to prioritize mental health. At the state legislature, I am taking this role of prioritizing mental health seriously. This is especially important to me because in our rural communities, people are disproportionately impacted by mental health challenges. I am grateful for the health care workers in our state and all of the advocates for mental health that are on the ground doing the hard work. As a state representative, I have been doing what I can to support their valuable efforts.
Young people with mental health issues that receive healthcare through Medicaid face significant barriers preventing them from receiving the care that they so desperately need. At the same time, there are a number of people seeking addiction recovery care in Colorado who may have past records of misdemeanors. While these two policy areas may seem far apart, they address the same reality — we are experiencing a mental health crisis. I’ve had the opportunity to sponsor two bipartisan bills to address this immense, complex issue facing our state: SB23-174 and HB23-1268.
SB23-174 would provide equitable access, and affordable, early prevention-focused services before a crisis occurs. Additionally, there would be an expansion of behavioral health services provided, such as individual, family and group therapy, case management and more. Currently, Colorado requires all patients under the age of 21 years old to have a formal diagnosis to receive services. This policy would require the Department of Health Care Policy and Finance to expand access to a limited set of behavioral health services to recipients under the age of 21 regardless of whether or not the recipient has a mental health diagnosis by July 1, 2024.
The lack of a diagnosis should not be a hindrance to receiving behavioral health services, especially considering that a diagnosis can stigmatize the individual receiving it. I’m grateful to have the chance to sponsor this bill that will have a positive impact on so many of our rural students and dismantle the systemic barriers contributing to the mental health crisis. The type of insurance coverage that a person’s family has should not prevent their children from receiving possibly life-saving diagnoses and services. As a teacher, supporting the behavioral health of young people is very important to me.
HB23-1268 addresses the mental and behavioral health crisis in a different sphere — criminal justice. Currently, individuals seeking addiction recovery services are required to submit a questionnaire that asks whether or not they are an out-of-state offender. If the person answers yes, rather than continuing the process to receive care, they will be diverted to local law enforcement for fingerprinting, and have their photo taken. While this may seem like an appropriate way to address the risk of out-of-state offenders taking advantage of the care provided in Colorado, the reality is that more than half of people who are initially turned away never return again to seek recovery assistance.
The intention of this policy is to simultaneously allow those seeking court-ordered treatment or care to access the services they need while still maintaining record if a person is on probation or parole. By passing this law we can remove another barrier for those in need of behavioral health services without risking the safety of our community. I am proud to have the opportunity to join with my bipartisan co-sponsors on a bill that will make Colorado law easier to navigate for those in need of potentially life-saving addiction recovery services.
While these two policies alone are not enough to protect our young people and other vulnerable members of our community from the dangers of mental illness, they are a necessary step forward. Destigmatizing the need for these services is essential to connecting people with care, and both SB23-174 and HB23-1268 make strides towards this goal. We have lost too many of our friends, family members, neighbors, and coworkers to the darkness of mental illness. I hope that you will join me in looking for solutions to this pervasive threat to our community’s wellbeing.
Please contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org with comments, concerns, and questions. Also, send me an email if you would like to be added to my newsletter for more frequent legislative updates. Let’s keep in touch and keep passing bills that make a difference. Onward!
Rep. Meghan Lukens represents District 26, which includes Routt, Moffat, Rio Blanco and Eagle counties, in the Colorado House.
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