As folks in our community continue to suffer with mental health issues and find few resources to help them to heal, one state Senator is doing what she can to take down at least one hurdle.
When Sen. Sharon Brown learned 51 people from the Tri-Cities had committed suicide in 2015, she set about to find what could be done. She learned that 12 of those who took their own lives were under 25 years old.
Brown wanted to find out where the system had failed those people, particularly the children.
The result is the Youth Behavioral Protection Act, a rare piece of legislation with wide support among both parties which could soon be on the governor’s desk for approval.
Medicaid-eligible patients are currently prevented from seeing two medical professionals in one visit to their primary care physician. The primary care doctor won’t be reimbursed if that happens. If the primary care doctor feels the patient would benefit from seeing a mental health professional, that patient would likely be referred to see someone at later date rather than getting potentially life-saving assistance on the spot.
If the act receives approval, it would allow and encourage primary care physicians to bring in mental health assistance when needed during routine visits.
Washington’s Health Care Authority would be able to change its rules, allowing clinics to be reimbursed. The hope is that patients would receive mental health services and care early on rather than when patients are in full-blown crises.
While it may seem like a solution aimed at a small population, in January of this year 1.9 million Washington residents were eligible for Medicaid, including nearly 860,000 children. If this helps just one of them, it will certainly be worth it.
The active trend is to integrate mental health care with physical health services. A Yakima pediatrician saw the need and brought mental health experts into see patients with him when they needed it. But when his clinic billed the state, the invoices were rejected because the patient had seen two providers in one visit.
That’s a ridiculous state of affairs when dealing with those in a fragile state of mind. They need care, and the state needs to figure out how to care for its own.
We thank Brown for spotting the problem physicians were dealing with and bringing it to the Legislature.
One local suicide prevention professional is thanking Brown for her efforts in the complicated world of access to mental health care.
“As with all processes and fixes there is no magic fix,” said Mark Lee of the Youth Suicide Prevention Program of Benton/Franklin County . “I am glad she is working hard to increase access.”
We need to make it easier for people to get the assistance they need to find a path to success, not put silly barriers in their way. Senator Brown says this is one of the pieces of legislation she is most proud of in her career, and rightly so. Everyone needs to do their part – large or small – to improve access for our state’s citizens to the mental health care they need.