5 Things Virginia: Q&A w/Dr. Aplasca, Mental health interim meeting, Health policy platforms

While DJ is out of office, I’ll be bringing you this edition of 5 Things We’re Watching. I’m the managing editor here at State of Reform where I have my eye on health care and health policy in Virginia and a number of other states.

Feel free to email me any feedback or tips on what you think we should be covering!

Emily Boerger
State of Reform

1. Dr. Aplasca discusses future of behavioral health care

Dr. Alexis Aplasca is the chief clinical officer at the Virginia Department of Behavioral Health & Developmental Services. In this Q&A, Aplasca discusses the integration of evidence-based treatment in behavioral health, new services in the Medicaid behavioral health space, and what she thinks behavioral health will look like post-pandemic.

During the conversation, Aplasca highlighted the complexity of Virginia’s behavioral health care system, but said the state is working to move the system forward. “The changes we’re really working on at the state level is how to decrease that gap between what’s available in the private space versus the public space. And how do we better align the services that are offered, so that the type of care and services that are available regardless of payer is really accessible to every Virginian.”


2. Mental health interim committee meeting

Members of the Joint Subcommittee to Study Mental Health Services in the 21st century met last week to discuss the reorganization of Virginia’s mandatory outpatient treatment guidelines – a policy mental health experts say is confusing, particularly for practitioners. Stakeholders said the current policy is difficult to navigate and needs to be broken into smaller parts. The committee has decided to pull together a task force to work on a new draft of the policy.

The committee also discussed two bills concerning involuntary commitment into state hospitals. The first bill, HB 2329, would require secondary physician approval for early release of certain involuntarily committed individuals, and the second bill, SB 1049, relates to medical record access and discharge participation for individuals assisting in the involuntary commitment process. Our coverage of the full meeting is available here and here.


3. Health platforms of election candidates

A 2020 poll found that 80% of registered voters consider a candidate’s stance on health care to be extremely or very important in influencing their vote. With this in mind, State of Reform Reporter Nicole Pasia took a look at the health policy platforms of the Democrat and Republican candidates in the running for governor, lieutenant governor, and attorney general.

Regardless of who wins, Virginia will soon see the first woman of color elected to the office of lieutenant governor. Del. Hala Ayala, the Democratic candidate, supports implementation of a state reinsurance plan and would prioritize addressing maternal mortality and behavioral health. Her opponent, former Del. Winsome Sears, intends to be a strong pro-life advocate and would focus on pursuing affordable health coverage by increasing competition. Read about the other candidates’ platforms here.


4. New federal funds to support Virginia’s underserved communities

The Virginia Department of Health announced yesterday the CDC has awarded $30.6 million to the state to address health inequities exacerbated and created by the COVID-19 pandemic. VDH’s four-prong strategy for the funds revolves around infrastructure, data collection, prevention and control, and working with local partners. About $12.1 million is slated for rural Virginia communities and $14.2 million will be administered through grant programs in communities.

The U.S. Dept. of Health and Human Services also recently announced $4.4 million in funding to support 44 Rural Health Clinics in Virginia. Rural Health Clinics will use the funds “to maintain and increase COVID-19 testing, expand access to testing for rural residents, and broaden efforts to mitigate the spread of the virus in ways tailored to their local communities.”


5. Major health reforms absent in Biden’s budget

President Biden’s first budget submission is surprising in what it omits, says State of Reform Columnist Jim Capretta. Several of the high-profile health proposals from the 2020 campaign – like the public option and Medicare eligibility at age 60 – are mentioned in the budget’s text, but are not tied to specific funding proposals or plans in the budget.

“Perhaps the most glaring omission in the budget,” says Capretta, “is the absence of any proposals to change what Medicare pays hospitals, physicians, and other medical service providers.” Without this, he says Congress will find it difficult to advance cuts as potential offsets for legislation that adds spending elsewhere. Capretta reasons that the lack of detail in the budget for major health policy changes are a signal that Biden has “made the political calculation that it is not possible to get most of them enacted in this Congress.”