The 85th Legislative Session in Texas was busy when it came to mental health. This was a result of a report by the Texas Select Committee on Mental Health, a year-long review of what was working and what is broken when it comes to mental health care in the state. As reported by the Texas Council for Development Disabilities, several bills related to mental health services passed the Texas legislature and went into effect on September 1, 2017. Here’s an overview on this new legislation:
House Bill 10 (HB-10)- Introduced by Rep. Four Price, R- Amarillo, relates to access of mental health care in Texas, and what benefits are required to be covered by insurance carriers. You might recognize this bill as it references parity, meaning insurance companies must cover physical health like they cover mental health. The law provides an ombudsman—or public advocate-- specifically for behavioral health, to help Texans have access to mental health services through their insurance and make sure insurance companies provide the benefits they claim. For the first time, this law now provides the resources for the state to investigate and possibly fine insurance companies who do not deliver on parity between physical and mental health with their insurance plans. You can learn more about this new law through the Texas Department of Insurance.
House Bill- 1600 (HB-1600)- Introduced by Rep. Senfonia Thompson, D- Houston, references families whose child qualifies for Texas Health Steps (THS). The law provides reimbursement for mental health screenings during the THS annual medical exam. Children who don’t qualify for THS may benefit as well; public programs like these set the standard for healthcare in Texas.
Senate Bill- 74 (SB-74)- Introduced by Sen. Jane Nelson, R- Flower Mound, concerns access to behavioral health services across Texas. The state already provides funding to Local Mental Healthcare Authorities (LMHAs) to provide mental healthcare and behavioral health services across the state. However, because of the high demand and needs for services, accessing existing LMHAs can be a problem for parents in many areas. This bill make it easier for non-LMHA providers to contract with a Medicaid managed care organization to provide the same mental healthcare and behavioral health services to Texans. The bill helps children with acute mental health care needs by streamlining a complex state credentialing process. In short, the hope with this law is to increase the number of mental health care providers in Texas, which could increase desperately needed access for many children in state.
Senate Bill- 292 (SB-292) introduced by Sen. Joan Huffman, R- Houston, SB-292 creates a matching-funds grant program to help reduce recidivism, arrest, and incarceration of people with mental illness in Texas. Since this law provides the funding for programs, it gives counties across the state the opportunity to design systems that work for their areas. Being mentally ill is not a crime and the state wants to provide support for those areas who are working through the challenges in accessing care and the criminal justice system.
Texas lawmakers meet every two years. During this off-session, Speaker Joe Strauss, R- San Antonio, has commissioned the Select Committee on Opioid Abuse, allowing the same level of investigation and public hearings around this crisis—which can stem from untreated mental health issues—and we anticipate the 2019 session is one to watch to see if the momentum continues when it comes to residents experiencing mental health challenges.
If you are experiencing an emergency, please call 9-1-1. If you need help locating mental health resources in your area, visit the Bexar County Community Resource website, call your local health department or the National Alliance Mental Illness's helpline at 800-950- NAMI (6264).