Since the commencement of the 83rd Legislative Session, the Hogg Foundation policy team has been extremely busy at the Texas Capitol. The foundation kicked off the session with our policy luncheon for legislators and their staff, which featured Hollywood producer Gary Foster and Representative Cindy Burkett. The luncheon also provided the opportunity for wide distribution of our new publication, “A Guide to Understanding Mental Health Systems and Services in Texas.”

Since then, the team has analyzed many mental health related bills for various Senate and House offices, was invited by Chairwoman Lois Kolkhorst to testify at a Public Health Committee hearing on mental health, and has provided testimony to various committees on mental health issues, including the Senate Finance, House Appropriations, House Human Services and Senate Health and Human Services committees.

The Hogg Foundation is serving as a valuable resource preparing talking points for committee hearings, visiting legislative offices to provide information and technical assistance, and attending weekly meetings of mental health advocates.

Here is an overview of what is happening at the Capitol that could have large implications for mental health:

  • State budget: Every biennium, the legislature is faced with the monumental task of developing a budget for our state. The House Appropriations and Senate Finance committees work hard to come up with innovative strategies for serving the people of Texas in the most fiscally responsible way. With more available revenue projected for the 2014/2015 biennium and the heightened attention to mental health as a result of national events, there are opportunities to secure greater funding for community mental health services. There have also been opportunities to work with legislators, state agencies and other advocates to help develop new, efficient ways of delivering the best mental health care to Texans.
  • Managed care and integrated health care: Managed care is an organized system for delivering comprehensive health services that allows the managed care organization to determine what services will be provided to an individual in return for their insurance premiums.   In an increasingly cost-conscious health care environment, moving behavioral health into the statewide managed care system is under consideration.  The move toward managed care has piqued the legislature’s interest in integrated health care because of the model’s potential to improve health outcomes while decreasing costs. Integrated health care—providing mental health care in primary care settings and vice versa—allows for earlier detection of mental and physical illnesses, earlier intervention, and therefore less acuity in health conditions.
  • Medicaid expansion: Federal health care reform allows states to opt out of the Affordable Care Act’s Medicaid expansion provision, leaving each state’s decision to participate in the hands of the governor and state leaders.  Many mental health advocates believe that the legislature has an extraordinary opportunity to maximize federal funding for uninsured Texans through Medicaid expansion and, in doing so, the state stands to transform Medicaid from a system that focuses on disability, which is extremely costly, into one that emphasizes prevention, health and wellness. They argue that, as more Texans have access to care, providers will be better able to meet mental health needs earlier, more effectively, and at a lesser cost.

In addition to these major issues, other significant mental health subjects being addressed include the use of psychotropic medications in the foster care system, school-based behavioral health, developing the mental health workforce and revising the mental health code.

Stay tuned for more mental health policy updates as the session continues.