DENVER (CBS4) – Rep. Dafna Michaelson Jenet has a radical idea: to make mental health care just as routine and relevant as physical health care.

“This is a game changer. This is history.”

She says mental health care is currently crisis management.

Dafna Michaelson Jenet (credit: CBS)

“Imagine you go to your doctor, and your doctor says ‘Hey your blood pressure is up. Give me a call when you have a heart attack.’ That is how the behavioral health care system is set up right now.”

Michaelson Jenet introduced a bill with Rep. Colin Larson that would change the system, starting with annual mental health checkups covered by insurance just like annual physicals. If it passes, it would be the first law of its kind in the country.

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The lawmakers say the goal of the bill is to identify and treat mental health issues before they’re in a crisis. Just as a physical screens for things like high cholesterol, a mental health checkup would screen for things like depression.

“Rather than dealing with an epidemic of opioid addiction and alcoholism, we’ll be dealing with these issues at the primary care level where they are much less expensive,” said Larson.

The bill would also give people a primary care provider to turn to if they do find themselves in crisis.

Candice Ferguson among the bill’s supporters.

“We shouldn’t have to be in crisis to get the support we need.”

(Photo by Tom Cooper/Getty Images)

She says it took her months to find help for her daughter after the STEM school Highlands Ranch shooting. The kindergartner wouldn’t go back to her school because she was afraid it wasn’t safe.

“You go to your dentist twice a year hopefully, and go to your well visit once year, and if you could get your mental health check once a year just to check in and say, ‘I’m doing okay,'” said Ferguson.

From missed school days to missed work days, the potential savings are considerable. Even some insurers say they may get behind the bill.

Amanda Massey is Executive Director of the Colorado Association of Health Plans, which collectively covers three million Coloradans.

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“Before there’s a big problem, we think it’s important they’re accessing that preventative coverage,” Massey said.

Michaelson Jenet says the bill also encourages integrated care so when you see your doctor for your physical, you can see a social worker in the same visit for a mental health check. The social worker can then refer you to a psychologist or psychiatrist if needed.

“We’re losing money because people are sick, and they don’t know how to get the care they need because the stigma says all in head. Sure, but head attached to body.”

She and Larson also hope the bill will help reduce the stigma around mental illness by making mental health care routine.

The bill passed its first committee unanimously.

Shaun Boyd

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