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Mental health legislation gets bipartisan support

Mental health legislation gets bipartisan support

Lawmakers crossed the aisle this session to pass legislation aimed at holding behavioral health treatment centers accountable and increasing inclusivity of severe mental illnesses that are often overlooked.

Multiple bills signed into law this session were centered around expanding services for people with serious mental illness, or SMI.

Arizona Health Care Cost Containment System, or AHCCCS,  published death trends among people receiving SMI benefits for the first time in 2022. There were at least 1,769 deaths for people in that category in 2022, according to a report that was shared with the Joint Legislative Budget Committee in September 2023. The majority of deaths occurred naturally, but 86 were reported as suicide.

This legislation was shepherded by lawmakers in a collaborative effort with a new prominent group at the Capitol, the Arizona Mad Moms.

The group is composed of parents and friends of SMI individuals who look to shine a light on how difficult it can be in the state to receive proper mental health treatment, especially for under-represented mental illnesses – such as schizophrenia.

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Sen. Catherine Miranda, D-Phoenix

Sen. Catherine Miranda, D-Phoenix, led “Mental Health Mondays” this session, sharing stories of people with serious mental illness who have been let down by the state’s mental health system.

During Monday floor sessions, she highlighted the struggles of the Mad Moms as they navigated the state’s mental health treatment system with their SMI loved ones.

Miranda said the stories emphasized the “gaps in our system,” and members of Mad Moms often recounted their own experiences while testifying in support of legislation in committee hearings.

“Try to pay attention to each story because you’ll realize the gaps in our system,” Miranda said, kicking off the initiative at the start of the legislative session. “You’ll hear the struggles that they went through. You’ll hear what part of the system failed them, and that’s where we need to pay attention and get together and fix those areas in our broken system.”

One bill that was signed into law this session declared AHCCCS, the state’s Medicaid provider, responsible for overseeing state agencies that provide behavioral health treatments. The legislation also expanded expectations and procedures for mental health screenings and court-ordered evaluations, specifically to be more inclusive of under-represented mental illnesses.

Now that the legislation was signed into law, AHCCCS is also required to report treatment-based statistical findings.

Josh Mozell

Josh Mozell, president of the Association for the Chronically Mentally Ill, said the requirement of real outcome data from treatment centers will help bridge information gaps that could bring awareness to institutional failures.

Other legislation that passed broadened requirements for court-ordered behavioral health evaluations. Specifically, the evaluations now require more information about the proposed patient in order to create more specialized treatment. It also specified which individuals are allowed to provide informed consent on behalf of a potential patient for voluntary evaluation, also aimed at closing the gaps in treatment.

While some bills to reform court-ordered treatment passed, one piece of legislation that would have allowed an individual’s loved one to petition for their involuntary treatment did not make it this session.

Sen. Justine Wadsack, R-Tucson, described the state’s mental health treatment system as a “carousel of failure” during a committee hearing on Feb. 28. The Tucson Republican introduced what would have been Arizona’s own version of Casey’s Law.

The Matthew Casey Wethington Act for Substance Abuse Intervention, coined Casey’s Law, is named after a man who died in 2002 from heroin overdose. The law was first enacted in Kentucky with the goal of providing means for intervention with a person who is unable to recognize their own need for treatment due to their impairment, commonly known as involuntary treatment.

The legislation passed out of the Senate with bipartisan votes, but multiple lawmakers said the bill still needed work to align it with the state’s substance abuse plans that are already in place.

The proposal was transmitted to the House in March and never surpassed its second reading.

Another bill that will likely be brought back in another legislative session would have appropriated $10 million from the general fund and $18 million from the state Medicaid fund for an ongoing secure behavioral health provider rate increase.


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