The Colorado Legislature introduced a bill on Wednesday that would officially create the Behavioral Health Administration (BHA). House Bill 1278 codifies the rules of the administration in the Colorado Department of Human Services (CDHS) to, “increase efficiency, transparency, and ease of access for behavioral health services,” said Michelle Barnes, executive director of CDHS.
On Friday morning, a press conference announced the introduction of the bill and the importance of the administration to the health of Coloradans.
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In April 2021, the legislature passed HB 1097 which required CDHS to create the BHA and submit a plan for the new administration by Nov. 1, 2021. HB 1097 required the BHA to be officially operational by July 1, 2022.
HB 1097 was one of the recommendations made by the Behavioral Health Task Force in response to the growing demand of behavioral health care in the state. Barnes said emergency department (ED) visits for young children with behavioral health concerns in 2021 were higher than they have ever been.
Jenny Hill, health policy analyst with the Denver Department of Public Health & Environment and behavioral health activist, said this demand for services in EDs is due to the fragmented behavioral health system and unnecessary bureaucracy currently in place. These fragments include different jurisdictions and care spaces for mild to moderate cases and severe cases.
HB 1278 would bring all these fragmented parts into one administration, which can implement their own cohesive vision of behavioral health care in the state.
“No one should ever have to be alone, desperately trying to navigate an overly complex, siloed, fragmented system that denies them or their loved ones services because they are labeled ‘too difficult’,” said Hill.
Dr. Morgan Medlock, newly appointed behavioral health commissioner for the BHA, said HB 1278 will create high quality behavioral health services by increasing accountability with a BHA advisory council and increasing access to care.
“As a psychiatrist, I believe this is the kind of legislation that will make high quality care the standard for our state’s most vulnerable,” said Medlock.
The advisory council is required to have 50% of the members and the co-chair be folks with lived experience with substance use and behavioral health concerns in order to hear the voices of those really affected by these policies. The council’s goal is to create meaningful policy recommendations to the BHA to create action in the legislature.
To increase access to care, the BHA will have administrative services organizations in every region in the state, similar to Medicaid’s regional coverage.
HB 1278 will also require the BHA to establish a statewide behavioral health grievance system and a behavioral health performance monitoring system to seek out issues with access and quality of care through data. The bill also transfers responsibility of community prevention and early intervention to the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment.
Senator Pete Lee (D-Colorado Springs), a prime sponsor of the bill, said this legislation compliments the work to distribute $450 million for behavioral health reform and ending the stigma of receiving behavioral health services.
“Caring for behavioral health is just as important as caring for your physical health. That is why I am incredibly proud to sponsor this bipartisan legislation, which will help streamline services in Colorado for those with behavioral health needs. The BHA will ensure accountability and set health standards for behavioral health in Colorado,” said Lee.