Day: March 19, 2013

A Mental Health Policy Update on the 83rd Legislative Session

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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.

A Recap of the Central Texas African American Family Support Conference

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The Central Texas African American Family Support Conference (CTAAFSC), a densely-packed two days of informative workshops and stirring keynote speeches, achieved its goal of sharing quality information about African American behavioral health issues with consumers, services providers, faith community leaders and other key stakeholders. The event took place on Feb. 28 and Mar. 1 in Austin, Texas.

CTAAFSC, hosted by Austin Travis County Integral Care and sponsored by community partners from the public and private sectors, offered attendees a wealth of expert insight into the unique challenges confronting African Americans who utilize the behavioral health system in Texas. These challenges include stigma, the need for greater cultural competency among mental health workers, structural racism, substance use and the lack of mental health knowledge among clergy.

The Hogg Foundation, through its support of the Austin Area African American Behavioral Health Network (AAAABHN), has been supporting education and awareness about mental health in African American faith communities. In fact, the AAAABHN sponsored the specialized track for clergy leaders at the CTAAFSC. One result was the Thursday afternoon panel discussion titled “Creating a Compassionate Culture: Embracing the Mental Health Needs of the Congregation,” in which panelists candidly shared their personal experiences with mental illness and recovery. There was also a special session for preachers’ wives that focused on their unique challenges and offered advice on helping church members experiencing emotional distress. The AAAABHN also hosted a networking reception following the first day of the conference.

Hogg’s former executive director, Dr. King Davis, director of the Institute for Urban Policy Research and Analysis, moderated the opening session of the conference.

Outstanding individuals were honored with the Garnet F. Coleman “Eternal Flame” and Richard E. Hopkins “Torch” awards for their leadership in the area of behavioral health. This year’s Eternal Flame was Dr. Exalton Delco, husband of former state representative Wilhelmina Delco, who was honored for his commitment to individuals and families affected by behavioral health issues.

A full recap of the conference can be found here.