A bill that would require health insurance companies to provide a free annual mental health exam passed its first committee before the General Assembly on Wednesday.
The House Health and Insurance Committee passed House Bill 1068 unanimously and goes next to the House Appropriations Committee.
The mental health screening would be comparable to physical checkups or other preventive care. The companies could not collect deductibles, copayments or coinsurance for the coverage.
The bill is sponsored by Democrats: Reps. Dafna Michaelson Jenet of Commerce City and Brianna Titone of Arvada, with Sen. Dominick Moreno, also from Commerce City.
Michaelson Jenet said getting early help shifts the focus to wellness instead of treatment as a reaction to crises.
“What we’re presenting you is a path forward,” she told the committee.
Michaelson Jenet sponsored the same bill, which passed out of the House a year ago, but it died on a unanimous vote in the Senate Appropriations Committee.
Gov. Jared Polis, as he tries to lower rates, has expressed a dim view of coverage mandates.
Last year, after he signed House Bill 1158, which requires coverage for infertility treatments, the governor said he wouldn’t sign more, unless they can be shown to lower rather than raise premiums.
Wednesday, Michaelson Jenet said her bill saves people money on health care.
“Preventative care does exactly that,” she said.
Karlee Tebbutt, associate director of the Colorado Association of Health Plans, said her group’s members insure more than 3.5 million Coloradans.
The trade group is reserving judgment while they wait on changes to Colorado’s essential health benefits benchmark plan, which proposes an annual mental health checkup.
“There are always costs associated with an additional state-mandated coverage benefit,” she said, in this case, 0.1% of fully insured premiums, or collectively about $6 million annually in Colorado, which would apply to about 1 million policyholders.
The provision still would not apply to Medicare, Medicaid, military or self-insured plans, which are regulated by the federal government.
Adams County District Attorney Brian Mason said mental health issues, often undiagnosed, are at the root of crimes his offices prosecute.
“Preventing is always better — and cheaper, I might add — than prosecuting crimes,” he said.
Titone said a lack of a diagnosis is a barrier to getting help.
“People want to get help but they lack the access,” she said, noting cost and stigma get in the way. “We can normalize getting mental health care just like we normalized physical health care.”
Steve Tool, the chair of the Northern Colorado Legislative Alliance, said his organization of chambers and economic development groups were unanimously behind the bill.
“To have a unanimous vote out of a business organization supporting this concept, knowing it’s going to cost more money, probably, I think speaks highly of the need,” he told the committee. “We’re following this legislation because it’s a health care issue and it’s a workforce issue. We need a healthy workforce.”