LEGISLATURE-RESUMES-05262020-KS-124

Rep. Dafna Michaelson Jenet, left, stands at her desk on the house floor during the returning session. Colorado lawmakers return to the state Capitol on May 26, 2020 in Denver, Colorado. Legislators have returned after a 10-week pause due to fears from the spread of the coronavirus.

State Rep. Dafna Michaelson Jenet is trying to build momentum for her bill to extend mental health screenings to all kids and others with private insurance.

"We hope as many of our Colorado kids as possible will take advantage of this opportunity," said the Democratic lawmaker from Commerce City on the Capitol steps Wednesday afternoon. 

House Bill 1258, called Rapid Mental Health for Colorado Youth, would create a $9 million program in the Department of Human Services and reimburse providers for up to three age-appropriate mental health sessions for youth.

Beyond the three visits, the program will try to connect kids with providers in their insurance network to continue service when it's necessary.

Legislative analysts said that assuming a reimbursement rate of $270 for three $90 sessions per child, the bill will cover 25,537 children.

Michaelson Jenet is hopeful of having the program up and running in July.

The bill allows for other odds and ends: screening providers, managing third-party vendors and $900,000 to promote the service.

The legislation passed the House 48-15 on April 29 and will be heard by the Senate Health and Human Services Committee on Monday afternoon.

"Insurance is not required for this program," Michaelson Jenet said.

Another of her mental health screening bills does.

Michaelson Jenet pitched House Bill 1068, which would require insurers to pay for annual mental health exams. The bill will be heard Friday morning before the House Appropriations Committee. 

The House Health and Insurance Committee advanced the bill unanimously on May 5, but Gov. Jared Polis has been clear that he doesn't work to add more coverage mandates to Colorado insurers while he tries to negotiate down rates, one of his signature campaign promises.

If the bill makes it to his desk, it could set up another showdown between Polis and fellow Democrats in the legislature.

"What we hope this will do is get ahead of what is right now a crisis-only system," Michaelson Jenet said. 

District Attorney Brian Mason for the 17th Judicial District endorsed both bills.

"I'm here because we have a mental health crisis in this country that disproportionately impacts the criminal justice system," he said, explaining, "Crime prevention is always better than crime prosecution. I might add, it's also cheaper. This bill, by providing annual mental health exams, will help us identify those who are having struggles before they erupt. We also have a crisis among the young when it comes to mental health."

He said too many people in law enforcement suffer in silence, and his judicial district in Adams and Broomfield counties had endured seven suicides by children in the last several days.

"These bills will help prevent gun violence and help stop suicides," Mason said. 

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