Utah Senate HHS Committee votes on first batch of bills

Mental health legislation will be a top priority for lawmakers on Utah’s Senate Health and Human Services Committee this year. The committee had its first meeting of the session on Wednesday to discuss four proposed health care bills, two of which would expand mental health services in the state.

 

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The committee voted on the following bills:

Senate Bill 41, sponsored by Sen. Luz Escamilla, amends Utah’s mental health access laws to include telehealth services. This bill was passed unanimously between sessions by the Health and Human Services Interim Committee and follows the structure of previous telehealth legislation. According to Escamilla, the original telehealth bill was very effective in increasing telehealth care provisions and SB 41 will expand telehealth support to accommodate rising mental health needs caused by COVID-19.

“Mental health is becoming a big crisis, and in our state, we’re seeing an increase in needs and access during the pandemic,” she said. “The state moved last session to be more proactive with mental health, and it’s working well. Now, we’re bringing this telehealth component to mental health.”

This bill will reimburse providers for mental health telehealth services if an in-person visit is covered by the patient’s insurance and if the insurer determines treatment through telehealth services meets appropriate standards of care. It was created with the input of numerous insurance carriers and Utah Medical Association, she added.

The committee passed SB 41 by unanimous recommendation.

Senate Bill 47 would create a Mental Health and Crisis Intervention Council. This bill passed through the interim committee between sessions and is sponsored by Sen. Daniel Thatcher.

According to Thatcher, Utah currently has various programs that provide Crisis Intervention Training (CIT) for police officers. He said they have tried to consolidate, but have been unsuccessful. This bill would create a single council under the Division of Substance Abuse and Mental Health, which currently runs CIT Utah — the most used CIT program in the state, Thatcher said. The council will gather different stakeholders in the program from throughout the state and craft policies without needing the legislature to put these in statute.

In response to questions raised by the committee about what services the council would provide, Thatcher clarified that this program solely pertains to CIT programs.

“This has nothing to do with treatment. This has nothing to do with hospital procedures. This deals only with law enforcement CIT programs, and nothing else,” he said.

While the legislature will determine the membership of the council, the Director of the Division of Substance Abuse and Mental Health will be allowed to add a member representing an omitted stakeholder group to commission, if he should see fit.

The committee passed SB 47 by unanimous recommendation.

Senate Bill 53 creates a behavioral emergency services amendment, and is also sponsored by Thatcher. It would create a first-of-its-kind program allowing the Department of Emergency Medical Services (EMS) to oversee the certification of a Behavioral Services Technician. This technician would respond to situations of mental health crisis in place of police officers, the fire department or ambulances.

“I believe that this will absolutely change the way that we provide service to those experiencing substance use or mental health issues,” Thatcher said.

This program would not have a timeline and would not require any agencies or political entities to employ them, he said. It will only certify these technicians, then allow cities, counties and private organizations to hire them at their discretion. The department will oversee the certification of these technicians in the same way it does for Emergency Medical Technicians and paramedics.

The committee passed SB 53 by unanimous recommendation.

Senate Bill 63 would create caregiver compensation amendments. Sponsored by Sen. Wayne Harper, this bill would create a compensation program for spouses providing “extraordinary care: to their partners. According to Harper, family members often provide better, more personal care to loved ones than many treatment centers. However, they often also have to go to work and are not compensated for their caregiving.

This bill would be funded through Medicaid and allocate $3 million to the creation of this program. The federal government would provide a near three-to-one match for funds the state spends on it.

“I think it’s a good thing that we ought to consider,” he said.” For about every $2.9 million in investment, we end up with another $5.8 million of federal funds, and I think it’s something we ought to take a look at. I think it’s stable and it’s ongoing.”

The bill passed SB 63 by unanimous recommendation.