The current mental health care system in Texas cannot handle the load of people who need help–and the state legislature hopes to change that when it convenes January 10, 2017 for the 85th legislative session.
The result is that many in the state go without desperately needed services. Aging facilities across Texas are improperly staffed and in decline after many years without necessary infrastructure renovations. Hundreds of Texans are on waiting lists to gain much-needed services. Members of the House and the Senate hope to improve on the issues. House Speaker Joe Straus says that one of his top priorities is improving Texas’ approach to mental health illness. “There is a lot of work to do,” Straus said. “But we are working to deliver better outcomes.”
State Senator Jane Nelson of Flower Mound is ready to tackle the problem; she filed Senate Bill SB74 on November 14, the first possible day to pre-file legislation for the upcoming session.
Nelson’s bill calls for streamlining and simplifying the credentialing process for behavioral health providers of targeted case management and rehabilitative services. The bill directly addresses the serious statewide need for serving low-income and foster children who have acute mental health needs.
Lawmakers can file legislation until March 10, 2017 for the session that runs from January to June.
The challenge, as always, will be in getting both chambers to work together, compromise and agree on the best approaches to these issues. Because of low oil and gas revenues, many state agencies have already been asked to make four percent cuts in their 2017 budget requests, but no cuts will be made to mental health care funding.
Mental health has been historically underfunded in Texas however according to Texas lobbyist and attorney Jake Posey, funds were increased during the last two legislative sessions–$298 million, in fact, during the 84th session. But it’s still not enough to compensate for years of low funding and the explosive population growth in Texas in recent years.
While there are no cuts, it is also uncertain whether there will be budget increases, so the challenge will be to use money already in the system for mental health care. Facilities across the state are serving record numbers of patients with serious emotional disturbances and severe, persistent mental illnesses, and they fear that it will be difficult or impossible to meet the growing demand without the additional funding.
Another concern is that the overwhelming majority of patients needing psychiatric emergency care have insurance plans that do not cover mental health services. Facilities are trying to increase Medicaid insurance eligibility for their clientele because that program is federally funded and would not drain state coffers.
As Speaker Straus explained, “We can absolutely do better. Texans are going to want to see some results.”