Four Price - Texas State Representative, Republican, District 87 | Price’s leadership made a difference for mental health care in Texas

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Price’s leadership made a difference for mental health care in Texas

Nov. 4, 2017
Amarillo Globe-News

Changing the direction of an entire state when it comes to how it views and treats people with mental illness is a monumental undertaking. Taking on such a task requires true leadership in a subject area that is so complex that it defies simple solutions that, unfortunately, still makes too many people uncomfortable to talk about.

As a region, and as a state, we’re lucky to have such leadership in the form of state Rep. Four Price.

For four legislative sessions now, Four Price has worked in the Texas Legislature to build a stronger Texas, focusing on challenging issues such as health and human services and natural resources. During an 85th Legislative Session that will long be remembered for its advances in treating people with mental health needs, Price was instrumental in the passage of critically needed reforms.

The board of the Meadows Mental Health Policy Institute has been fortunate to work with Price on many of these issues. At every step along the way, Price has played a key leadership role in identifying problems, raising awareness and, most importantly, identifying effective and efficient solutions and spearheading vital legislation to begin putting them in place.

This began with the most basic — yet vital — of tasks: matching the problem to policy solutions. Not long ago, mental health wasn’t even something people spoke about, let alone believed could be effectively addressed. Yet, it’s a pervasive issue that touches nearly every Texan in some form or fashion. Three out of four Texas voters have a family member or friend who has needed help with a mental health issue, the same number that say cancer has affected their family or friends.

With his characteristic mix of compassion, insight and hard work, Price took point on the issue, answering the call to serve as chairman of the House Select Committee on Mental Health during the 2016 interim. This critical effort produced a report that, for the first time, spelled out in detail how Texas mental health systems work, how much gaps in care cost us in dollars and broken lives, and how to improve local health systems for the betterment of both taxpayers and the Texans who depend on them for care. This report was the foundation for everything the 85th Legislative Session would accomplish, representing a giant step forward in reforming the Texas approach into a model that should be studied and emulated nationwide.

During the legislative session itself, Price also served as chairman of the House Committee on Public Health, the first stop for all legislation related to mental health. In many instances, he was already very familiar with these bills, since he authored or sponsored so many. Among those he authored or sponsored that became law were:

HB 10, which expanded the state’s authority to ensure that insurance companies treat mental health coverage the same as physical health coverage. It also designated an ombudsman for behavioral health care access.

HB 13 created a $30 million grant program to support state-local collaborations to address gaps in behavioral health services.

HB 1486 established training and certification requirements for peer specialists and authorized Medicaid reimbursement for their services.

HB 3083 added chemical dependency counselors to the list of mental health professionals eligible for the Loan Repayment Program for Mental Health Professionals.

SB 74 streamlined the credentialing process for providers seeking to treat children with high needs, meaning the children of our state will have more access to behavioral health services.

SB 1326 adopted recommendations from the Texas Judicial Council’s Mental Health Committee affecting the criminal and judicial process for individuals with mental illness.

He also teamed with state Sen. Joan Huffman and sponsored SB 292, expanding a successful jail diversion pilot in Harris County statewide to establish a grant program that allows communities across Texas to develop and tailor their own programs to reduce the incarceration rates of people with mental illness.

Taken together, this impressive collection of legislation will lead to more efficient and effective use of taxpayer dollars, relieve pressure on law enforcement and overworked emergency rooms, and — most importantly — improve the quality of care for Texans.

There’s no doubt that more work remains to be done, but the efforts of Price have pointed us in the right direction and gotten us off to a stronger start than anybody should have expected in such a tough budget year.

His constituents should be proud that he is willing to step forward and enact real solutions for some of the most difficult and challenging issues we face.

Dr. John Opperman is vice chancellor for academic affairs at Texas Tech University System. He serves on the board of the Meadows Mental Health Policy Institute.

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