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Utah mental health services to get boost under new laws

Posted at 3:41 PM, Apr 06, 2021
and last updated 2021-04-06 19:31:49-04

SALT LAKE CITY — Mental health services and insurance coverage for children will get a boost under a series of bills passed by the Utah State Legislature.

During a ceremony on Tuesday, Governor Spencer Cox hailed the bipartisan legislation that expands treatment options for people and gets more children medical care. (The signing event was purely ceremonial as the governor had signed the bills into law weeks ago.)

A lot of the bills increase children's health insurance coverage. Rep. Doug Welton, R-Payson, pointed out that Utah consistently ranks near the bottom for uninsured children.

Senate Minority Whip Luz Escamilla's bill came out of the COVID-19 pandemic. It requires companies to cover mental health therapy sessions using telehealth services like any other doctor's visit.

"We wanted to standardize the practice and make sure every Utahn that has insurance coverage, can use telehealth as a tool during the pandemic," Sen. Escamilla, D-Salt Lake City, said. "This actually extends that in a permanent way."

One of the biggest pieces of legislation creates a new mental crisis hotline. 988 works like 911, but for people in crisis, said Sen. Daniel Thatcher, R-West Valley City. He has been trying since 2013 to get the bill passed and funded.

"The person answering the call will be a social worker, it will be a licensed clinician that is capable of taking these suicide calls and talking that person through the worst moments and the worst pain of their lives," Sen. Thatcher told FOX 13 on Tuesday. "If they don’t actually need that level of care? Then they can be transferred to a warm line and we can help them find therapists on your insurance plan, get you qualified for Medicaid, we can help you find nonprofits that serve."

The 988 hotline is expected to be fully implemented by next year.