Legislative Action: The Next Step  

By unifying regional health care, human services and behavioral health organizations, Kids’ Minds Matter has successfully made a tangible difference for the families and children in Southwest Florida. However, we need the power of our state and national governments to continue improving access to services, which were already severely lacking throughout Florida and nationally prior to the pandemic. We need your help to achieve these legislative goals.

Legislative advocacy by citizens with elected officials and leaders is the most direct way to cause change in government policy. Change driven by working with legislatures makes sure they are aware of what is important to the electorate through phone calls, emails and letters about issues.

Please write to your elected officials and ask them to address mental health workforce shortages, insurance reimbursement and availability, and expanding coverage that are impacting your community’s access to quality pediatric mental and behavioral health care. Together, we can accomplish real change.

The Impact of Advocacy: Our Voices Bring Change

In March 2024, Governor Ron DeSantis signed the Live Healthy bill package as part of the 2024 Legislative Session. This landmark bill package, with its provisions designed to bolster Florida’s health care workforce, including mental and behavioral health, and enhance access to crucial mental health services across the state, is a significant step forward for pediatric mental and behavioral health care.

The passing of the Live Healthy package is a testament to the power of your advocacy. Your letters to our elected officials, expressing your unwavering support for expanding and enhancing pediatric mental and behavioral health care in our communities, made a significant impact. Our state-elected officials heard us and championed the Live Healthy package, led by Florida Senate President Kathleen Passidomo.

While there is still more work to be done, it is important to pause to celebrate and be grateful for the wins. Join us in thanking our elected leaders with a letter of gratitude for working hard for our children and families, passionately advocating for our health care, and proactively addressing our communities’ future mental health needs.

Live Healthy Bill Signing

Falling Further Behind 

2023 Community Health Needs Assessment

Statewide, according to Florida Hospital Association: 

  • 15.51% of youth experience at least one major depressive episode a year 
  • The state has 237 federally designated mental health professional shortage areas, the 6th highest in the country 
  • 5.99% of youth have a substance abuse disorder 
  • 11.4% of youth under private insurance lack mental health coverage 

Lee County trails the national average in many areas: 

  • Access to a mental health provider 
    • Lee County: 87.3 providers for every 100,000 people 
    • National: 146.6 providers for every 100,000 people 
  • Age-adjusted suicide 
    • Lee County: 14.9 suicides for every 100,000 people 
    • National: 13.9 suicides for every 100,000 people 
  • Age-adjusted unintentional drug deaths 
    • Lee County: 37.6 drug deaths for every 100,000 
    • National: 21.0 drug deaths for every 100,000

Legislative Strategy 

The goal of Kids’ Minds Matter’s advocacy is to emphasize pediatric behavioral health legislative priorities with state and federal stakeholders to achieve positive outcomes for patients.

These initiatives will benefit not only those seeking treatment. Research has proven that mental health medical treatment, whether administered in person or via telehealth, provides benefits that exceed its costs.

Key Initiative: Equal Treatment in Insurance Payments

Seeking the equal treatment of mental health conditions and substance use disorders in insurance plans. Despite the passage of federal legislation to ensure health care parity, including the Mental Health Parity and Addiction Equity Act (MHPAEA), financial requirements and reimbursement rates applied to behavioral health services remain more restrictive compared to medical or surgical services.

Why:

  • Health insurance plans, from private individual and group coverage to the Medicare program, have long imposed barriers that limit access to needed behavioral health care for both mental and substance-use disorders, with far-reaching and often tragic results.
  • The widespread practice of providing unequal coverage for behavioral health and other medical care not only limits access to needed care but subjects many Americans to the risk of major financial losses from out-of-pocket costs.
  • Primary care services were reimbursed 23.8% more than behavioral health care in 2017.
  • Lower reimbursement for behavioral health increases costs to the patient, and increased costs can result in reduced utilization of these critical services.
  • Studies have found that equalizing specialty behavioral health and general medical benefits will not increase total health care expenses at all or will increase them by only a very modest amount of total health care premium. The real cost lies in not treating behavioral health disorders.

Key Initiative: Address Health Care Workforce Shortages

Pursue action that will reduce workforce shortages, including modifications to Graduate Medical Education funding, licensure reciprocity, grant and incentive programs for the nursing workforce, and ensuring the visa authorization process is structured to expedite admission of qualified international medical staff.

Why:

  • Florida is ranked 42nd in the nation when comparing the ratio of patients for each mental health provider (550:1).
  • By 2035 Florida could face a shortage of 59,100 nurses and 36,000 physicians.
  • The United States and the Florida are experiencing a behavioral crisis that requires immediate action. The growth in demand for pediatric and adult behavioral health interventions in Southwest Florida over the past four years has well exceeded our collective ability to treat those in need.

Key Initiative: Support Funding for Critical Programs

For a project to be funded by the Florida Legislature, it must be filed as a standalone bill, be favorably considered in committee, and request only a nonrecurring appropriation. Here are three local projects currently being considered for funding that need community support:

  • The National Center for Pediatric Special Needs Medical Program will provide early intervention, early access to screening, health care services and treatment, behavioral health, education, and vocational community partners with family engagement to properly help the young child to young adult with special needs have a self-sufficient and productive future.

SUPPORT PEDIATRIC SPECIAL NEEDS PROGRAM

  • The Lee Health Graduate Medical Education Center will train additional physicians in Southwest Florida and will have far-reaching benefits to improve the health of the community. The Graduate Medical Education Center will increase the pipeline of physicians in high-demand specialties.

SUPPORT GRADUATE MEDICAL EDUCATION CENTER

Key Initiative: Improve Access to Mental Health Services

By the year 2036, substantial shortages are anticipated in critical mental health professions, including addiction counselors, marriage and family therapists, mental health counselors, psychologists, and psychiatrists. Notably, rural counties face a higher likelihood of lacking behavioral health providers compared to their urban counterparts, leading residents in these areas to predominantly receive behavioral health services from primary care providers. The challenges contributing to this gap include the lack of uniformity in behavioral health providers’ scope of practice, reimbursement issues, and an alarming increase in burnout rates within the workforce. These factors collectively hinder the accessibility and effectiveness of the behavioral health workforce.

In response to these challenges, there is a call to expand integrated care, leverage health support workers, and incorporate telebehavioral health services. By embracing these approaches, there is hope to address the multifaceted issues currently faced by the mental health profession and improve the overall accessibility and quality of behavioral health services.

Why:

  • The legislative push comes as lawmakers are hoping to improve access to mental health services year after year.