Thursday, January 25, 2021
Healthy Minds Policy Initiative continues to track a set of legislative opportunities for improving mental health and addiction in the 2021 session. Despite a mental health crisis caused by the pandemic, these opportunities can build a more strategic, cohesive health care system that effectively engages more Oklahomans earlier in their mental health and addiction needs and produces better health, economic and education outcomes.
Three of four key opportunities have passed out of committee and are headed to the floor, while one remains pending and is expected to be heard next week. The first major legislative deadline is Friday, February 26, by which time bills must have passed out of committee in order to stay alive in the legislative process. However, the deadline to hear bills in appropriations committee has been extended to March 3 due to weather delays this month.
SB 674, authored by Sen. McCortney (R- Ada) and Rep. McEntire (R- Duncan), passed through the House Retirement and Insurance committee with a 9-0 vote in its favor. This bill expands telehealth access by ensuring that medically-appropriate telehealth visits are covered in the same way as similar in-person visits, with no greater patient costs or limitations and with equal provider reimbursement. These measures have already helped Oklahomans through the COVID-19 era on a temporary basis. If made permanent, they have the potential to transform access to care in rural areas
Mark Vancuren (R- Owasso) and Sen. Haste (R- Broken Arrow) introduced HB 1103, which greatly expands the use of the Oklahoma Prevention Needs Assessment (OPNA) in Oklahoma schools. Already used by about half of schools at the 6th, 8th, 10th, and 12th grade levels, the OPNA helps schools and families understand school climate and how to better respond and anticipate the needs of students. It is a critical best practice for informing prevention programs. HB 1103 passed out of the House Common Education Committee with unanimous support.
Two active bills, HB 1005 and SB 511, that focus on harm reduction services passed out of committee. HB 1005, Rep. Carol Bush (R- Tulsa), passed out of the House Public Safety Committee 6-1 on Feb. 9, and SB 511, Sen. John Michael Montgomery (R- Lawton), passed 7-3 in the Senate Health and Human Services Committee on Feb. 8. These bills would allow medical practitioners, law enforcement, tribes and registered social service entities to administer harm reduction syringe service exchange programs with careful oversight by the State Department of Health. States have seen benefits from such programs improved treatment admissions and substance abuse rates, fewer law enforcement officers with needle stick injuries from used syringes, and lower transmission rates of infectious disease
Simpson (R- Ardmore) and Sen. Haste (R- Broken Arrow) introduced SB 295, focused on aligning mental health spending and strategies. This bill identifies and breaks down siloes in state government and improves access to care by: 1) analyzing all spending and funding associated with mental health in 11 agencies; 2) building a multi-agency strategy for aligning these resources and improving care, and 3) linking future budget requests to the multi-agency strategy. This bill is assigned to Senate Appropriations committee and can be heard until March 3.
Legislators considered a myriad of other bills related to mental health and addiction in committee during February. For an updated tracking list of all mental health and addiction bills, see below: