2022 Colorado State of Reform Health Policy Conference Recap

Violet Willett, MHA is Director of Care Management for Rocky Mountain Health Plans and Maureen Carney, LCSW is Director, Whole Person Health for Rocky Mountain Health Plans.

The 2022 Colorado State of Reform Health Policy Conference was held in November, bringing together policymakers and individuals who work in health care. Events such as these are an important way to create transformation in public health programs such as Medicaid.

The 2022 Colorado State Reform Conference focused on creating greater understanding between the legislative and program design aspects of the Medicaid program and bringing these two groups closer together.

We attended this conference to understand more about the legislative process in Colorado and to support members who are enrolled in the Rocky Mountain Health Plans. The primary themes we heard centered around the end of the Public Health Emergency (PHE) and the work being done to better serve individuals with behavioral health needs.

Creating understanding at the end of the public health emergency

Breaking down the silos in health care is especially important as the end of the public health emergency (PHE) grows near. State policymakers and individuals working with members of Medicaid from managed care organizations and nonprofits will need to work closely together to ensure individuals continue to have access to the health care resources they need when the PHE ends as coverage and policy changes occur.

The state of Colorado provided updates at the conference about how they are working proactively to support individuals who are enrolled in Medicaid during the end of the PHE. Items that were mentioned included:

  • A toolkit to help explain the renewal process that will be provided to community partners and other stakeholders.
  • The state's Update Your Address campaign to ensure individuals’ contact information is up to date.

Updates on Behavioral Health Administration

Medicaid is the largest public payer of behavioral health care1.Individuals who lose Medicaid coverage at the end of the PHE could be at risk of increased mental health issues. A keynote by Morgan Medlock, MD, MDiv, MPH, Behavioral Health Administration Commissioner for the State of Colorado addressed this and the need for greater support for individuals with behavioral health needs.

Dr. Medlock discussed the formation of the Behavioral Health Administration (BHA), which will strategically allocate funding and develop a unified, multi-agency approach to the provision of behavioral health services.

“We're going to be a state, unlike any other state, that doesn't attempt to consolidate but attempts to bring together government through a networked approach," she said.

The state’s goal is to drive coordination and collaboration of behavioral health care across all state agencies, no matter where a person seeks care or how they pay for it. Previously, the state had more than 100 behavioral health programs administered across 13 agencies. The goal is for the new BHA to be a convener of these agencies.

The BHA will drive a people-first behavioral health system focused on accessible, meaningful and trusted care. It will have a 20-person planning and advisory council with representative membership from BIPOC and rural communities, and people who have lived experience with the behavioral health system.

The BHA will be critical in supporting members of Medicaid. It will be researching state, federal, Medicaid, CHIP and other demonstration grants, waiver projects as well as additional opportunities to support its work.

Additional support for community behavioral health

Participants in the Spurring Innovation Through Behavioral Health Reform supported this discussed change in behavioral health policy. The panel discussed the importance of connected and supported local nonprofits in addressing heath care inequities in communities.

Kiara Kuenzler, CEO of Jefferson Center for Mental Health talked about the great need in the community for behavioral health resources. Her own center has developed a community engagement team that provides resources and training about mental health first-aid and suicide prevention to family members, teachers, and friends of at-risk individuals.

The community engagement team is also attempting to reach the community more directly through telehealth kiosks, Kuenzler said. These will be placed in areas such as resource centers, schools, libraries, aid organizations, and homeless shelters. 

These and other discussions gave individuals a better understanding of how we can all work together to transform Medicaid. We look forward to continuing discussions started at the conference in support of this endeavor.

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