Rep. Dafna Michaelson Jenet (D – Aurora), Chair of the House Public & Behavioral Health & Human Services Committee, recently shared her plans and outlook for the 2023 legislative session with State of Reform, which include legislation to address the behavioral health needs of public school students and promoting biomarker testing as a part of cancer treatment planning.
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The longtime advocate for behavioral health said she plans to build upon the momentum of the state’s I Matter program, which provides up to six free therapy sessions for Colorado youth ages 18 or younger. She plans to introduce legislation that would allow for student behavioral health evaluations to be conducted in public schools for those seeking help.
“One of the things I’m working on is to make mental health evaluations available in school,” Michaelson Jenet said. “So not just a screening, but an actual evaluation for therapy. Not specifically looking for crisis, but obviously we would help a child in crisis [and] help them get connected with therapy through the I Matter program.
Right now there aren’t evaluations for mental health in public schools. Only if a child is in crisis. So this would be available to every student.”
Michaelson Jenet said the program would be voluntary for schools and students/parents to opt-in and offer HIPAA-protected evaluations that would become part of the child’s medical records and not part of any school record. The evaluations would connect more students who need therapy to free sessions or ones available through their health plans.
“The key here, why we can do this now, is because we have the I Matter program standing so we have a place to refer kids to get support,” she added.
Since 2021, the I Matter program has served over 2,400 students through more than 8,000 sessions across 50 of the 64 counties in Colorado. The program is scheduled to run through June of next year.
Michaelson Jenet also plans to introduce legislation that would expand health coverage for comprehensive biomarker testing as part of cancer treatment planning. The legislation would require state-regulated health insurance plans and Medicaid programs to cover biomarker testing for cancer patients.
According to the Colorado Cancer Coalition (CCC), more than half of the cancer treatments released nationwide in the past five years required or recommended biomarker testing, which is emerging as the standard of care.
CCC notes that biomarker testing may result in cost savings by narrowing the scope and duration of treatment as patients tend to have fewer and more targeted rounds of therapy through the diagnostic-based planning. Michaelson Jenet has been working with the coalition to develop the policies that make the emerging biotechnology more accessible.
“At a time when you might have been diagnosed with cancer, we know that biomarker testing allows for [a] more precise treatment plan and greater success,” Michaelson Jenet said. “We believe that [comprehensive biomarker testing] will save lives and save money in the process.”
Michaelson Jenet says she will be monitoring the state’s spending on healthcare as measures from previous sessions continue to play out.
The Behavioral Health Administration is in the process of developing its strategic vision on mental healthcare access as part of its priorities for systemic transformation, which it will release by March of 2023.
Colorado is also launching the Option in 2023, the state’s health plans that cover all essential health benefits required by the Affordable Care Act, including free primary care and mental health visits.
For the first time ever, the undocumented population and DACA recipients, can enroll in affordable health insurance plans and qualify for financial help through OmniSalud, now available on Connect for Health Colorado’s new platform, Colorado Connect.
More than 5,700 people have enrolled in a health insurance plan through OmniSalud, with approximately 5,600 of those qualifying for state-funded financial help that completely funds their coverage.
The state also invested in wage increases and work study programs for its nursing professionals and students this past year.
Michaelson Jenet said she will be tracking the progress of all these measures in the coming session and beyond to ensure reforms are meeting their intended objectives.
“We’re watching to see how the [Option] continues to roll out, saving people money, people getting access to the quality of care that they need, and we’re able to monitor that,” Michaelson Jenet said.
“I don’t know that I anticipate any specific Colorado Option legislation coming forward this session … We also put tens of millions of dollars into workforce, very specifically in the healthcare arena. So I want to see those dollars play out. Where are they going to be spent? Who’s going to get the grants and how is that money going to move forward? I don’t have any particular legislation that I foresee [concerning the Option] because we’ve put so much in the last session.”