Washington state has a severe and worsening behavioral-health crisis, and we need to ensure that Washingtonians with behavioral health conditions have access to all the tools possible to protect them. The Legislature needs to pass HB 1086, a bipartisan bill sponsored by Rep. Tarra Simmons and Rep. Michelle Caldier.
Although the Legislature is poised to make historic investments in behavioral health, those investments will only work if they also make it easier for individuals to find and pay for services. Passing HB 1086, which creates a statewide office to advocate for the needs of people with behavioral-health conditions, must be part of the final legislative package in the 2021 legislative session.
Last month, FAIR Health found an increase nationally of nearly 100% in mental-health claims for teenagers. The worsening crisis of young people’s mental health seems to be of critical concern to Gov. Jay Inslee: It is one of the reasons that he decided to reopen schools. We know the governor is looking to prioritize the mental health of our youth. Along with youth, we must also act to ensure that adults can also access the care they need.
According to the state Department of Health, the unmet need for services is growing. Over a 10-day period earlier this year, more than 800,000 adults reported that they needed behavioral-health services but couldn’t find them. We frequently hear from people in crisis who are desperate for help but don’t know how to find a provider or navigate our Medicaid system. Unmet behavioral-health needs don’t just go away. Our emergency rooms are increasingly full of people in behavioral health crisis, and suicide rates are on the rise. The Legislature has the power to help this session. We will not have full economic recovery without mental and emotional recovery. The Legislature must do all it can to help people get the care they need.
HB 1086 offers our state an opportunity to address a long overdue reform to our behavioral-health system. Consolidating and strengthening the current fragmented and ineffective regional ombuds system into a coordinated and robust statewide office will make it easier for individuals and families served by the public behavioral-health system to get the care they need. Implementing a single phone number to call for help in finding a provider or navigating Medicaid behavioral-health services will help the 1.5 million people on Medicaid find the treatment they need before reaching a crisis point. And providing independence from managed-care organizations will remove the current inherent conflict of interest to ensure that effective care, not costs, are driving access.
Additionally, HB 1086 creates a new patient advocate for individuals in hospital psychiatric units, both public and private. We continue to be appalled by news reports of patients-rights violations at Washington state behavioral-health hospitals, both public and private. A patient-centered system of advocacy that helps patients assert their legal patient rights is a pro-active systemic response to those abuses and will result in better treatment for patients.
According to the Journal of American Medical Association Network, the rate of depression for adults in the U.S. has tripled during the pandemic. In November, Washington’s Department of Health predicted that our state can expect more than 3 million Washingtonians to experience clinically significant behavioral-health symptoms through the early months of 2021. A lot has been written about the “double pandemic,” which includes COVID-19, and the ensuing levels of depression and anxiety. We are close to the end of the public-health emergency, but the resulting behavioral-health conditions will be with us for years to come.
HB 1086 passed the House unanimously, and the Senate passed it Wednesday, sending it back to the House for concurrence. After past similar legislation failed, it’s time for this bill to reach the governor’s desk and for Gov. Inslee to sign it.
There are 1.5 million reasons to pass HB 1086 and zero reasons not to this year.