Top 3 Policy Themes to Watch for in the 2024 Legislative Session

The new year is here, and 2024 is already shaping up to be an exciting time for behavioral health policy. January marks the start of another legislative session of the Colorado General Assembly, which comes on the heels of an extraordinary session called in November of last year. WellPower’s policy efforts span community, municipal and state level policy, and we are excited to share our policy priorities for the upcoming year. With these goals in mind, here are some policy themes to keep an eye on in the coming months.

ICYMI: 2024 is also an exciting time for us, as July of this year will mark the merger of the Jefferson Center and WellPower. The strengths of our two organizations combined will enable us to meet the needs of our communities in a way that has never been seen before in Colorado, and we are excited for the opportunity to expand our impact in response to a changing policy environment.

Policy Theme 1: Behavioral Health Administration Implementation

If you feel like you’re having déjà vu, don’t worry – implementation of the Behavioral Health Administration (BHA) was in our legislative preview last year too. Since the BHA launched in 2022 there have been many months of stakeholder meetings, readings at the state board of human services and hard work on the part of government officials, behavioral health providers and community members to get the administration up and running.

This year marks two important milestones for the BHA: the launch of a new licensure process and the final implementation of Behavioral Health Administration Service Organizations (BHASOs). The BHASOs, which go into effect in July of 2024, consist of multiple regional entities responsible for administering funds to providers. We’re already seeing legislators ask questions about funding mechanisms for the BHASOs – a good sign that we might see requests for funding come before the legislature in some form this session.

Policy Theme 2: Continuation of Housing Initiatives from the Mayor’s Office

When Mayor Mike Johnston was elected in the summer of 2023, he immediately began working on a goal to place 1,000 unhoused Denver residents into temporary housing by the end of the year. This push by the new administration required substantial energy from a new City Council, and the initiative was met with a variety of responses from community.

On the final day of December, the Johnston administration was reporting 1,103 individuals housed. The proposed housing sites, termed “micro communities” by the mayor, will be temporary housing with wrapround services onsite where individuals can access basic necessities, behavioral health services, case management and other resources to assist them in transitioning to permanent housing.

The end of December also marked the opening of Denver’s first “micro-community”, a temporary housing site in northeast Denver that provides wrapround services and resources to 50 people in the hope that they will eventually transition to permanent housing. Moving into the new year, many unanswered questions are related to increasing the availability of that permanent housing, and we have a feeling both temporary and permanent solutions to the housing crisis will be high on the City’s policy docket in the months to come. 

Policy Theme 3: Improving Inpatient Options in Colorado’s Behavioral Health Safety Net

Prior to session starting, we are seeing a public push from state legislators to address inpatient care options in the behavioral health safety net system. Often, low-income individuals living with mental illness or substance use disorders are caught between multiple institutions that are ill-equipped to meet their needs. People can become unnecessarily involved in the justice system, and those admitted to hospitals are often discharged prematurely due to Medicaid rules capping inpatients stays at 15 days per month.

We are seeing multiple legislative pushes to address these issues, including a proposed bill to prevent jail detentions for individuals with substance use disorders, and a request from state Medicaid officials and legislators that the Governor allocate funding to extend Medicaid caps for inpatient treatment. These issues are deeply relevant to our work at WellPower and we will continue to monitor these legislative themes in the months to come.

Policy Bonus: Sneak Peek

Our colleagues at the Colorado Behavioral Healthcare Council are working on an exciting bill with Senator Rhonda Fields that will work to improve youth behavioral health crises by expanding behavioral health training programs, including Teen and Youth Mental Health First Aid (MHFA). Teen MHFA trains teens on how to recognize warning signs and symptoms of mental health or substance use challenges and find a trusted adult for assistance, while Youth MHFA trains educators and staff to respond and intervene appropriately when youth are experiencing symptoms of mental illness or substance use. WellPower has been working to expand youth and teen Mental Health First Aid training through a partnership with Denver Public Schools, and we are excited to see a state-wide effort to expand these important learning opportunities.