2023 Legislative Preview

It’s hard to believe it’s already January. With the start of a new year comes another legislative session of the Colorado General Assembly. And while last year’s session was one of the most eventful in recent memory (click here for a quick reminder about why), the 2023 session promises to be one to watch as well.

Here are four behavioral health themes to keep an eye on over the next few months.

Behavioral Health Administration (BHA) rules and implementation. To recap, the BHA will revamp the way behavioral health is organized, overseen and funded in Colorado, with the goal of making care more accessible, equitable and efficiently administered. There is a lot of speculation around whether there will be “clean-up” in the BHA bill that was passed last year. A “clean-up” would mean refining some of the language in the bill based on further analysis and feedback from constituents for the purpose of clarifying ambiguities, closing gaps and introducing more specifics about how the policies outlined in the bill will be implemented. We see this as an important step because of several unanswered questions and the importance of getting this right – people’s lives depend on it.

Advancing the Certified Community Behavioral Health Clinic (CCBHC) model in Colorado. CCBHCs are provider organizations that meet rigorous standards of care and offer a comprehensive range of services, including emergency care, substance use treatment, case management, psychiatric rehabilitation and more. This model is a blueprint for patient-centered care that has been shown to improve not only access, but outcomes. Thus, it is gaining increasing significance on the federal level, with funding becoming available for organizations across the country to become CCBHCs as well as ongoing federal funding to support the model – in Colorado’s case, as much as $240 million over four years. We’ve been working with partners across the state to help develop funding applications and to prepare WellPower for certification in the near future.

Helping community behavioral health providers meet increasing costs. You may have noticed that the world has become a little more expensive lately. Inflation and increasing costs have placed additional pressure on community behavioral health providers who are already trying to manage rising need with fewer resources. Part of this will entail the perennial conversation around a state “provider rate increase” – a modest adjustment to the funding available for behavioral health organizations – to reflect the increasing costs of providing services. According to a memo written by a Joint Budget Committee analyst, rate increases of only 1% over the past several years have reduced the purchasing power of community mental health centers by 38%. This has presented serious challenges to the centers’ ability to address workforce shortages and expand access to care.

Support the behavioral health workforce. Administrative burden is a constant struggle among healthcare workers, especially in behavioral health. The onerous, often duplicative forms and paperwork required in behavioral health places an added strain on clinicians’ ability to dedicate their full time and energy to serving people. There are a series of proposals to reduce the administrative burden on behavioral health workers, which would improve the clinician experience (and thus help address staff burnout and workforce shortages) as well as the patient experience. If your therapist doesn’t need to fill out so much redundant paperwork, they have more time and energy to devote to you.

Bonus: Sneak Peek. We learned of a bill that would allow licensed psychologists with additional training to prescribe medication for the treatment of mental health conditions. This aims to address the increasingly dire shortage of medical providers in the behavioral health field – for every psychiatrist entering the workforce two are retiring, for example – which is contributing to growing wait times for psychiatric services. Proponents argue that this will increase access to medical treatment for behavioral health conditions, reduce wait times and ease this part of the workforce shortage. Even so, a wide range of stakeholder groups are already lining up on both sides of this issue. This will be another one to watch.