With 1 in 5 Texas children with mental disorders, funding increases debated

Texas Mental Health Day at the State Capitol (KXAN Photo)
Texas Mental Health Day at the State Capitol (KXAN Photo)

AUSTIN (KXAN) — One in five children in Texas will have a mental health disorder according to a new state report and the Texas Medical Association.

In a tight budget session, where it’s a victory for an agency to keep the money they have, lawmakers seem willing to increase mental health services by millions of dollars. The focus for advocates now is keeping that money in place and not reroute it to competing priorities.

The argument for the money is early intervention of mental health is a lot cheaper than issues that come up later in life; state hospital beds, clogging court systems, rerouting police departments and programs to combat addiction.

As a pediatrician, Dr. Ryan Van Ramshorst is required to give one mental health screening to his patients between 12 and 18 years old. Tax dollars pay for it through Medicaid. But one time might not be enough. He treats mental health whenever he can.

“A child might come in for a cold but later comes out during that visit that they have symptoms of depression, that pediatrician is going to address that depression or schedule a follow up visit to delve more into it,’ said Dr. Van Ramshorst.

“Just having a limited… behavioral health screening at an early age probably isn’t sufficient,” said Rep. Four Price, R-Amarillo, chairman of the House Select Committee on mental health. That committee released a comprehensive report in early January to deal with what many doctors call a mental health crisis in Texas. A 2015 survey found that 185 of the 254 counties in Texas don’t have any psychiatrists.

The House proposed budget has a $162 million increase in mental health funding for different programs. The Senate is proposing more than $65 million. Chairman Price hopes some of the additional funds could go to a program to reimburse pediatricians for a yearly mental health screening, not just one.

He is a joint author on HB 1600 that would require and pay for yearly teenage screenings. The author is Rep. Senfronia Thompson, D-Houston.

“Most mental illness will manifest at a young age and if treated early and intensely, that’s where the greatest chance of success actually lies,” said Chairman Price.

Now he’ll try and convince his colleagues that paying for more regular mental health screenings through Medicaid will save the state money in the long run, by keeping people out of jail and state hospitals.$6.7 million across the budget are earmarked for mental health facilities and programs.

As the legislative session goes on, several mental health bills could pass on their own or they could be formed into one omnibus mental health bill. Advocates are joyful lawmakers debating any increase in resources.

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