Dafna Michaelson Jenet

State Rep. Dafna Michaelson Jenet speaks before a hearing on Feb. 6, 2020, with, at her right, Sen. Rhonda Fields and Rep. Emily Sirota on two bills aimed at improving mental health for K-12 students on campus.

After the 2020 session left a stack of unresolved bills, lawmakers are set to take another crack at a slate of legislation tied to mental and behavioral health this year.

That includes a bill from Rep. Dafna Michaelson Jenet, D-Commerce City, that’s seeking to require health insurance companies cover an annual mental health wellness examination free of charge, the same way annual physicals are covered.

“You have a crisis-only response system,” Michaelson Jenet said of mental health care in an interview with Colorado Politics. “We need to get into the preventative care model so that we can teach people how to identify when their depression is too deep, their anxiety is too deep, when they need to learn coping skills, when they need to get extra help.”

Michaelson Jenet’s proposal cleared the House last year but died in the Senate after she said Gov. Jared Polis “drew a line in the sand around new insurance mandates.” 

Bill mandating Colorado insurers cover annual mental health exams advances

“Last year I was unable to convince him that this is not a new insurance mandate and so we were not able to move the needle forward,” she said. This time, she’s optimistic about the bill’s prospects.

For one, she believes it will again clear the House and touted “a very strong sponsor in the Senate” — Joint Budget Committee Chair Dominick Moreno, D-Commerce City — who Michaelson Jenet believes will shepherd the bill through the legislative process in that chamber.

As for Polis, she said she’s worked on the bill during the interim period between legislative sessions with the state Division of Insurance. The argument she laid out to Colorado Politics was that the Affordable Care Act called for parity between physical and mental health services. If healthcare providers offer physicals with no copay requirement, they should be offering copay-free mental health evaluations too, she said.

“This is a service that was supposed to be provided for us and the insurance companies have gotten off scot-free without them,” she said. “It has done nothing to help in the service of the mental health of our community.”

Michaelson Jenet said she believes Polis’ team is behind the concept of an annual mental health wellness exam, but added she didn’t think they were “at full eye-to-eye yet.” So where does that leave the bill should it in up on the governor’s desk?

“I can only say I hope [he signs it],” she said.

Other bills introduced so far in the General Assembly dealing with mental health include:

  • House Bill 1021, a wide-ranging bill that would broaden the circumstances that peer support services can be billed under Medicaid and allow peer support professionals to provide and bill for telehealth services, among other things

  • House Bill 1030, which would expand a grant program to improve law enforcement’s response to calls stemming from mental health disorders and social service needs.

  • House Bill 1085, which seeks to create and regulate a secure transportation service system separate from the requirements of traditional ambulances for those undergoing a behavioral health crisis. 

  • House Bill 1097, which would implement a recommendation from the 2019 behavioral health task force to create a Behavioral Health Administration within the Department of Human Services to administer the state's behavioral health priorities.

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