As the Oklahoma Legislature convenes for its 2022 session, it does so amid an ongoing global pandemic that continues to elevate depression, anxiety, addiction, and childhood trauma to unprecedented levels in our state.
The Legislature took positive steps early in the pandemic to ensure fairness for Oklahomans seeking behavioral health care by passing landmark parity legislation and protecting valuable mental health funding amid an emerging budget shortfall. In 2021, the Legislature made expanded telehealth coverage benefits permanent, improving access to critical services and recognizing the constraints on behavioral health practitioners.
In 2022, legislators can continue prioritizing mental health as a vital issue to the well-being of all Oklahomans. Healthy Minds has identified several legislative opportunities for this session, as well as key issues to watch in 2022. You can also view our legislative tracking lists to stay informed on the dozens of mental health-related bills under consideration this year.
Ending student suicide
HB 4106 by Rep. Mark Vancuren (R-Owasso) and Sen. Dewayne Pemberton (R-Muskogee) ensures every school in Oklahoma has a protocol for responding to students in suicidal and mental health crises. These locally driven, evidence-based response plans would include support from, and coordination with, community behavioral health providers. Youth suicidality is at an all-time high, yet despite having procedures to protect students in other emergencies, schools are often unprepared to empower families to address the needs of a student experiencing a mental health crisis.
Aligning mental health spending and strategy
SB 295 by Sen. John Haste (R-Broken Arrow) and Rep. Marcus McEntire (R-Duncan) calls for an analysis of mental health spending across state agencies and requires inter-agency strategic collaboration on mental health services across state government. This alignment of spending and strategy will make more efficient use of state funding already allocated to mental health services.
Clarifying mental health parity
SB 1413 by Sen. John Michael Montgomery (R-Lawton) and Rep. Chris Sneed (R-Fort Gibson) updates 2020 legislation requiring insurers to demonstrate their compliance with existing laws establishing parity between physical and mental health insurance coverage. The measure aligns state parity reporting requirements with federal requirements, making compliance easier for insurers and encouraging more transparent and useful reporting.
Mental health loan repayment
Oklahoma can begin to address shortages in its mental health workforce – overburdened and stretched thin by increased demand for services – by funding for the first time a loan repayment program. Previously authorized by the Mental Health Loan Repayment Act of 2019 (SB 773), the program could yield 50 critically needed professionals during the next five years with just $1 million in its first year of funding.
Legislators enter 2022 with $1.8 billion to spend from the state’s share of American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) funding. Investing even a small portion of this funding in behavioral health would have a long-lasting impact on our state. Proposals before legislative working groups include funding for mental health treatment beds across the state and an anti-stigma campaign proposed by Healthy Minds in partnership with multiple organizations. Addressing mental health stigma is a necessary and critical component of mental health expansion.
Mental health of the helpers
Several bills filed in 2022 recognize the importance of the mental health of Oklahomans on the front lines of serving our state. For example, SB 1613 requires the Department of Public Safety to create a division that promotes good mental wellness, and HB 4109 directs the Oklahoma Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services (ODMHSAS) to create an Education Employee Assistance Program to support teachers who may need mental health support.
Drug courts are an alternative to incarceration that divert individuals with substance use disorders toward treatment and recovery. Multiple bills filed in 2022 seek to strengthen or expand these programs. HB 3304 and SB 1746 allow judges to refer applicants to the program over objections from a district attorney. SB 1548 requires drug court programs to contract and coordinate with the ODMHSAS and allows county programs to meet the needs of their participants by expanding possible eligible offenses.
Children’s mental health
Legislators continue to introduce bills that address mental health issues for children and schools. Legislation addressing childhood trauma includes SB 1314, allowing for reimbursable childhood trauma screenings. SB 1307 would require school districts to include numbers for the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline and Crisis Text Line on student ID cards. Numerous pieces of legislation, however, could restrict access to mental health services in schools. Bills on this subject can be found in our legislative tracking list for school-based services.
Systemic access issues
Numerous bills address administrative, funding, or practice reforms that impact access to mental health services at a systemic level. SB 1337 removes statutory language allowing the Oklahoma Health Care Authority to enter into a managed care system, a key issue from the 2021 legislative session that is sure to remain a topic of discussion despite legal rulings halting the state’s move to commercial managed care. HB 4082 builds on key legislation from 2021 that expanded options for transporting people detained by police with mental health issues. This bill clarifies the role of law enforcement in the new transportation system. HB 3741 would add suicide prevention training to the requirements for licensing physicians.