A bill aimed at expanding access to mental health services for Nebraska’s children advanced in the Legislature Thursday.
The bill’s sponsor, Sen. Amanda McGill of Lincoln, said it was necessary to address children’s mental health issues at a younger age, before they became too serious to treat. It advanced with a vote of 35 to 0.
McGill said only one percent of children with mental health issues receive treatment from a certified mental health professional.
LB556 would expand insurance coverage for optional mental health screenings to be carried out by primary care physicians.
It would also extend telehealth availability for children’s behavioral health issues to schools and doctors offices by allowing consultations to take place over wireless connections, rather than land lines only.
McGill said this move would decrease the average cost of telehealth services from about $10,000 to $200 for doctor’s offices.
Telehealth allows doctors and patients to conference with mental health professionals in other parts of the state.
Sen. Bob Krist of Omaha said this would make child psychologists and psychiatrists in Omaha and Lincoln available to people in rural parts of the state in a cheap and efficient way.
“This is a baby step to get to where we need to go,” he said.
The bill would also create a two-year pilot program overseen by the University of Nebraska Medical Center in which child psychologists would be placed in three clinics around the state to conduct mental health screenings.
The program would cost about $900,000 over the next biennium.
Several lawmakers expressed support for the bill.
Sen. Annette Dubas of Fullerton said the bill would fill a void in the school system that special education does not address.
“Our teachers are not trained to cope with children with these needs,” she said.
Sen. Greg Adams of York, a former teacher, echoed those sentiments.
“This is a real problem that goes beyond special education,” he said. “This issue is very real.”
Sen. John Harms of Scottsbluff talked about the consequences of children with serious mental illnesses going undiagnosed and untreated.
“What we’re seeing as a result are children killing children,” he said.