Colorado is in a state of crisis for child and youth behavioral health, with suicide as the leading cause of death for ages 10-24, and an estimated one out of every six teens having a diagnosable mental health condition.
Faced with a crowded agenda at the State Capitol this legislative session, lawmakers heard from advocates around the state that youth mental health needed to be a top priority this year.
As a result of this advocacy, as well as champions in the legislature and Governor Jared Polis, the following slate of critical youth mental health bills passed this year at the Colorado state legislature:
- Senate Bill 195 (Sens. Fields/Gardner and Reps. Froelich/Landgraf): CHILDREN & YOUTH BEHAVIORAL HEALTH
- A bipartisan bill that has the potential to improve our state’s mental health system to better serve Colorado children, youth and families, and reduce costly, unnecessary interventions that don’t always lead to the best health outcomes. Senate Bill 195 will move forward a set of programs including high quality, standardized screenings and assessments to identify behavioral health needs early in children and youth, comprehensive “wraparound” care coordination services to get kids the right care at the right time, and the creation of a blended funding strategy across agencies to facilitate more collaboration and innovation that will support children with behavioral health needs and their families. The bill passed on a unanimous 35-0 vote in the Senate and a 52-13 vote in the House.
- Senate Bill 10 (Sen. Fields and Reps. McLachlan/Valdez): SCHOOL HEALTH PROFESSIONALS
- Nearly 70% of Colorado’s 178 school districts do not meet national ratio recommendations for mental health or health professionals, and approximately a million of Colorado’s students are underserved. The School Health Professionals Grant Program was created in 2014 and provides funding to schools to increase the presence of school health professionals and support the behavioral health needs of students. The bill broadens the scope of what these professionals can provide for students in need of behavioral health services, and it appropriates an additional $3 million to hire more professionals around the state. SB 10 will strengthen this program and invest in the future of Colorado. The bill passed on a 22-8 vote in the Senate and a 46-19 vote in the House.
- House Bill 1269 (Reps. Cutter/Sullivan and Sens. Ginal/Gardner): MENTAL HEALTH PARITY
- Everyday Coloradans are denied behavioral health treatment, put on a waitlist for months without care, or forced to pay out-of-pocket costs—often not getting timely treatment that should be covered. State and federal laws require insurance carriers to provide coverage for mental health or substance use disorders that is equal to physical care. HB 1269 will ensure enforcement and transparency of existing state and federal parity laws and increase consumer protection; modernize our behavioral coverage laws to align with physical care and increase access to behavioral health services; strengthen prevention and screening laws to shift the system away from expensive late-stage treatment to early intervention; and eliminate gaps and loopholes in current law to ensure no more Coloradans fall through the cracks. The bill passed on a 30-5 vote in the Senate and a 48-15 vote in the House.
These policies were the result of many months of stakeholder discussion and engagement with state and local agencies, families, providers, and advocates. Long-term, sustainable progress for children and youth behavioral health was made this year. We celebrate our victories and we turn to the future filled with hope. We look forward to continued collaboration and partnership as we continue to work together to strengthen Colorado’s behavioral health system for Colorado kids and their families.