Five days after Rep. Dafna Michaelson Jenet held a Capitol news conference pushing her mental health legislation, a bill she is sponsoring requiring insurers to cover an annual mental health exam advanced in the House.
“This bill ... could have a major impact on getting in front of mental health crises,” the Commerce City Democrat said. “They don't have to happen. This is wellness and as we focus on our mental health wellness, and as we learn to keep our mental health as well as our physical health or maybe even better, we know that the net result will be fewer crises, fewer suicides, less massive mental health challenges, costs and concerns.”
Under House Bill 1068, which was unanimously approved in the House Health and Insurance Committee before winning bipartisan support in the House Appropriations Committee, insurers would be required to cover yearly mental health screenings, comparable to physical checkups or other preventive care. Insurance companies could not collect deductibles, copayments or coinsurance for the coverage.
“Mental and behavioral health has always been focused on crisis management but if you're treating a crisis, you're already too late,” said Rep. Brianna Titone, and Arvada Democrat who along with Michaelson Jenet is sponsoring the bill in the House. “By helping people identify and address mental and behavioral health issues early, we can focus on mental health and wellness management."
The bill won praise from lawmakers on both sides of the aisle, including from Rep. Mark Baisley, one of the two GOP members of the Appropriations Committee who voted against it. The Roxborough Park Republican noted that in the aftermath of mass shootings, lawmakers often talk about mental health and question why red flags displayed by the perpetrator weren’t caught.
“I appreciate that this is an attempt to move towards that to address that issue and to more normalize examining folks on an annual basis, just like we do with our physical health,” he said.
Still, Baisley said he was conflicted about the bill because it also represented “state government directing private industry on how to conduct their business.”
Rep. Colin Larson, R-Littleton, raised no such conflicts. Larson and Michaelson Jenet ran a similar version of the bill a year ago, which passed out of the House but died on a unanimous vote in the Senate Appropriations Committee as lawmakers turned their attention to the COVID-19 response.
“Clearly we have a mental health crisis in this state, in this nation, and what we are doing is not working,” he said. “This is an area where we need to pull out the stops and this is an innovative policy. It will radically change the way we view mental health.”
But Republican lawmakers aren’t the only ones the bill’s sponsors will need to get on board.
Gov. Jared Polis has been clear that he doesn't want 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.
To make it to that point, the bill needs to advance past a final vote in the House, which it is now eligible for, and through the legislative process in the Senate.