DENVER (March 9, 2021) — A bill to create a single state agency that would lead, promote and administer Colorado’s behavioral health priorities unanimously passed the Colorado House Public & Behavioral Health & Human Services committee today, a key step in the state’s plan to improve access to mental health and substance use services.
House Bill 21-1097 directs the Colorado Department of Human Services (CDHS) to create a Behavioral Health Administration (BHA) by July 2022 and temporarily house it through November 2024. The BHA would receive, coordinate, and distribute funds for community behavioral health programs; oversee the quality of behavioral health services; and monitor and evaluate behavioral health outcomes across the state. Reps. Mary Young (D-50) and Rod Pelton (R-65) and Sens. Rhonda Fields (D-29) and Bob Gardner (R-12) are sponsoring the bill.
Establishing a BHA was a unanimous recommendation put forth in Colorado’s blueprint for behavioral health reform, which the Behavioral Health Task Force published last September. Gov. Jared Polis convened the Task Force in April 2019 and charged its members to reimagine how the state delivers substance use and mental health care.
“After hearing dozens of hours of public testimony, we know most consumers get lost in a bureaucratic maze when seeking services, and far too many give up on getting help altogether,” said CDHS Executive Director Michelle Barnes, who chaired the Behavioral Health Task Force. “Coloradans deserve better, and we need bold solutions to improve the system. A Behavioral Health Administration would give more options to consumers, cut red tape for providers and ensure all Coloradans can access lifesaving behavioral health care when they need it.”
The bill moves to the Colorado House for debate as the pandemic continues to amplify Colorado’s behavioral health crisis. The Colorado Crisis Line, the state’s behavioral health hotline, has seen a more than 30% increase in total call and text volume during the pandemic. Although an estimated 1 million Coloradans have a behavioral health condition, Colorado ranks in the bottom half of states in access to care and has one of the highest suicide rates in the nation. Deaths from drug overdose also reached an all-time high in 2020, according to the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment.
“As a school psychologist, I know how difficult it can be for students and their families to find affordable and timely mental health support,” said Rep. Young. "The inability for many, not just youth and their families, to get the behavioral health supports they need to achieve health and stability and move forward to experience wellness led me to become a legislator. This bill will allow the state to improve our behavioral health infrastructure so all Coloradans can quickly access services and our state can better identify and address service gaps and structural inequality.”
The bill requires CDHS to submit a plan to create the BHA, including the integration or alignment with Medicaid and private insurance, by November 2021. The state will also consider the BHA’s permanent home, whether that is within CDHS or elsewhere, and make a recommendation by November 2024.
“Our current behavioral health system is fragmented and inefficient, and it causes a lot of Coloradans to fall through the cracks,” said Rep. Pelton. “Through a BHA, we can reduce bureaucracy, improve services in our rural communities and make sure we’re spending our dollars wisely.”
The committee also approved House Bill 21-1130, which would expand eligibility for the state’s behavioral health Transition Specialist Program, which serves high-risk individuals who are transitioning from hospitals or withdrawal management facilities into community-based treatment. To increase participation, HB 21-1130 would allow the program to accept individuals voluntarily receiving 24/7 behavioral health services and clients from crisis facilities and emergency departments as well as hospitals and withdrawal management facilities. The bill is sponsored by Reps. Dafna Michaelson Jenet (D-30) and Mary Bradfield (R-21).
Colorado spends about $1.4 billion across 10 state agencies and 75 programs on behavioral health services. CDHS is currently working with Health Management Associates, a health care policy firm, to evaluate how the state could consolidate disparate programming and funding streams under the BHA.
For more information on Colorado’s behavioral health reform efforts, visit the CDHS website.
If you or someone you know is in crisis or needs help dealing with one, call 1-844-493-TALK (8255) or text TALK to 38255 to speak to a trained professional. Learn more at coloradocrisisservices.org
Madlynn Ruble, Deputy Director of Communications