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. 

Falling Further Behind 

– 2020 Community Health Needs Assessment 

Statewide, according to Florida Hospital Association: 

  • 13% of youth experience at least one major depressive episode a year 
  • The state has 204 federally designated mental health professional shortage areas, the 7th highest in the country
  • 4% of youth have a substance abuse disorder
  • 75% percent of adults diagnosed had an undiagnosed mental illness as a child

Lee County trails the national average in many areas: 

  • Access to a mental health provider
    • Lee County: 99.7 providers for every 100,000 people 
    • National: 202.8 providers for every 100,000 people 
  • Age-adjusted suicide
    • Lee County: 14.8 suicides for every 100,000 
    • National: 13.9 suicides for every 100,000 
  • Age-adjusted unintentional drug deaths
    • Lee County: 31.4 drug deaths for every 100,000 
    • National: 18.1 drug deaths for every 100,000 

Legislative Strategy 

The goal of Kids’ Minds Matter’s advocacy is to emphasize behavioral health legislative priorities with state stakeholders to accomplish specific priorities during legislative sessions.

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: Expand Telehealth and Other Treatments

Extend flexibilities that were provided during the COVID-19 pandemic for telehealth (and audio appointments and other care), including for behavioral health services, and remove Medicaid prior authorization requirement for seeking these services. Support future telemedicine legislation that requires certified clinical care being properly reimbursed and further encourages utilization.

Why:

  • Flexibility allowed during the pandemic has improved care and health outcomes and reducing costs.
  • Telehealth has been associated with lower 30-day readmissions than patients without timely post-discharge follow-up.
  • Telehealth and audio appointments allow those in remote areas to have greater and timely access to behavioral and mental health appointments.
  • Large segments of the population dealing with behavioral health issues receive no treatment whatsoever, and others who seek it out experience inadequate levels of care.
  • Telehealth may help reduce rising workforce shortages.

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 healthcare expenses at all or will increase them by only a very modest amount of total healthcare 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 (670:1).
  • 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:

  • Funding for development, support and build of the Golisano Children’s Hospital’s Down Syndrome Clinic with the mission of improving the quality of life for about 5,000 children with Down syndrome and their families by offering coordinated assessments, connections to resources, education and advocacy. Children with Down syndrome usually have delays in physical, intellectual and language development, and they require specialized services to help them reach their full potential.
  • Funding The Golisano Children’s Hospital Autism Testing Demonstration Project to integrate communication and symbolic behavior scales development profile screening for infants and toddlers 6 to 24 months old, testing for validity and reliability. For decades, it was thought that ASD could not be diagnosed and treated until a child was about 3. Now screening tools can identify children and risk at 18 months old and even younger. The earlier in life ASD can be identified and treated, the better.
  • Funding to develop and build the Southwest Florida Autism Center to serve as a medical and social services treatment facility for children and young adults with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD). This center will link early intervention, early access to screening, healthcare services and treatment, behavioral health, education and vocational community partners with family engagement to properly help the young child to young adult with ASD have a self-sufficient and productive future.

Take a Stand for Kids’ Mental Health

Legislative advocacy by citizens with elected officials and leaders is the most direct way to cause change in government policy, from working with legislators to making 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 healthcare. Together, we can accomplish real change. 
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Founded in 2016, Kids’ Minds Matter is a unified movement in Southwest Florida dedicated to advancing pediatric mental and behavioral health services. By developing clinical pathways to screen and treat patients, enhancing public awareness through education, and lobbying for systemic change and sustainable funding, Kids’ Minds Matter aims to align mental health providers, local agencies, the judicial system, law enforcement, schools and faith-based organizations. Kids’ Minds Matter is managed through the Lee Health Foundation.

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It’s Time to Act!

Did you attend the virtual Town Hall about the state of mental health in our community? (If not, view this impactful meeting by clicking below.) You can participate in improving mental health treatment in Southwest Florida in so many ways!