Colorado is on the way to give teens three free treatment sessions to help them deal with the Coronavirus

Every Coloradoan age 18 or younger can get a free mental health exam and up to three free subsequent visits with a mental health professional under a new bipartisan bill in the state Capitol that aims to help children deal with the effects of the coronavirus crisis. .

House Bill 1258 It represents one of the most aggressive behavioral health initiatives in Colorado history and will come with a one-off allocation of $ 9 million.

The procedure calls for the creation of an online portal where children can fill out an assessment and then contact service providers if needed.

“We know that children who get the support they need have better health and more success in school,” said State Rep. Daphna Mishison Jennett, a Democrat of Commerce City and the main sponsor of the legislation. “If we could get that to every Colorado kid? A game changer.”

The procedure expands on Michelson Jennett’s idea, first reported by The Colorado Sun earlier this year, to reach out to every Colorado student after a tumultuous school year marred by the coronavirus by offering a free mental health checkup before the start of the next school year.

Representative Daphna Michaelson Jennett, D-Commerce City, speaks on the parity of mental health for the public at The Colorado Sun’s Big Ideas 2020 Forum at the Cable Center on the University of Denver campus January 14, 2020 (Eric Lubbers, Colorado Sun)

In February, when I first floated the proposal, it wasn’t clear if there was enough money – or political willpower – to make it a reality.

But then Gov. The Jared Polis administration offered a similar proposal, and two ideas joined in the form of the House Bill 1258.

Legislation appears to be on track to be passed quickly. Its funding comes from the state’s $ 800 million coronavirus stimulus package that lawmakers are still revealing, which includes money for everything from infrastructure upgrades to restaurant tax exemptions to drought-tolerance programs. The bill has the support of Democratic leadership on the Capitol and has a first sponsor from the Republican Party Rep. Kevin Van Winkle, of Highlands Ranch.

The $ 9 million for House Bill 1258 must be spent by June 30, 2022, the end of the next fiscal year. The money will go to service providers to reimburse them for their time.

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Michaelson-Genet hopes to begin his mental health screening before the end of the current school year. “If we were able to do that, that would be tremendous,” she said.

Colorado Children’s Hospital says it has seen a spike in mental health-related visits, and the American Mental Health Group says there has been an increase in children reporting feeling lonely. Through anecdotal accounts, parents across Colorado have reported mental health problems among their children as they have been isolated from friends during the pandemic. A series of teenage suicides in the eastern plains blamed on coronavirus restrictions.

Senator. Janet Buckner, a Democrat from Aurora, is also the lead sponsor of the bill. The former speech and language therapist said she believes the legislation will have a significant and lasting impact.

Proponents also see the measure as a school safety initiative. Michaelson Jennett said asking kids to return to school without a mental health check is like putting students in a pressure cooker.

House Bill 1258 aims to make sure children who get mental health services don’t fall off the map after their three free visits with the provider. To allow continuity of care, the legislation calls on the state to help connect children with a therapist in their insurance network once their free visits are used.

If there is money available, children may also have access to more than three free visits.

At $ 9 million, the House Bill 1258 financing is one of the largest pools of funds earmarked to date as part of the government’s coronavirus stimulus package. But Michaelson Jennett thinks it isn’t much.

“I am concerned that it will not be enough,” she said. “For that not to be enough, we need to do our job really well on the back end of this success and make sure we’re talking about (marketing) and that communities get involved and get involved. Honestly, I hope we run out of money and we need to find more.”

People between the ages of 19 and 22 can get free advice by law if they are receiving special education services.

No date has been set for the legislation yet for the committee’s first hearing.

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