Gov. Polis signs bill to transform Colorado's behavioral health system

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DENVER (April 22, 2021) — Gov. Jared Polis signed a bill establishing a new state Behavioral Health Administration, transforming how Colorado will deliver mental health and substance use services to all Coloradans as the state contends with a behavioral health crisis amplified by the COVID-19 pandemic. Watch the bill signing.

HB 21-1097 directs the Colorado Department of Human Services (CDHS) to establish a new Behavioral Health Administration (BHA) by July 2022 and temporarily house it through November 2024. The BHA will align, coordinate and integrate state mental health and substance use programs and funding under one government entity, streamlining access to services for Coloradans and reducing bureaucracy for providers. 

“An estimated 1 million Coloradans live with a behavioral health condition, and we know the compounding traumas of the last year have only worsened mental health and substance use challenges for many,” said Gov. Jared Polis. “We need a system that can deliver timely, affordable and responsive services that truly put people first. I am proud to sign this landmark piece of legislation that lays the groundwork for bold transformation.”  

The Behavioral Health Task Force (BHTF) unanimously recommended establishing a BHA in Colorado’s blueprint for behavioral health reform, which the BHTF published last September. Gov. Polis convened the BHTF in April 2019 and charged its members to reimagine behavioral health care in Colorado.

“Here in Colorado we know that true health care means care for the whole person, which is why we’re so proud to be leading the way in creating transformational change in our behavioral health system,” said Lieutenant Governor and Director of the Office of Saving People Money on Health Care Dianne Primavera. “This legislation is part of the recommendations from the Blueprint for Reform and is just the beginning of our work to further streamline this system in a way that best serves all Coloradans.”

“Today we celebrate the more than two years of work that has brought us to this historic milestone,” said CDHS executive director and BHTF chair Michelle Barnes. “I want to thank all Coloradans who shared their stories with us, especially those who testified before the Task Force. Your input guided our vision for a more responsive, equitable and accessible system, and we are already working on BHA planning so we can continue our momentum.”

The signing comes 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. 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

The bill requires CDHS to submit a plan to create the BHA, including integration or alignment with Medicaid and private insurance, by November 2021. The state will also consider the BHA’s permanent home, whether within CDHS or elsewhere, and make a recommendation by November 2024. Reps. Mary Young (D-50) and Rod Pelton (R-65) and Sens. Rhonda Fields (D-29) and Bob Gardner (R-12) sponsored the bill. 

An analysis conducted last year found that Colorado spends about $1.4 billion across 10 state agencies and more than 75 programs on behavioral health services. CDHS is currently working with https://www.healthmanagement.com/, a health care policy firm, to evaluate how the state could consolidate disparate programming and funding streams under the BHA. Colorado’s Behavioral Health Reform Executive Committee will review and adopt a plan to organize the BHA later this summer. 

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.

Media contact:
Madlynn Ruble
Deputy Director of Communications
madlynn.ruble@state.co.us
303.866.3411