Bill would extend behavioral health pilot program

The Health and Human Services Committee heard testimony March 4 on a bill that would extend a behavioral health screening and referral pilot program.

In 2013, the Legislature created the Behavioral Health Screening and Referral Pilot Program at the University of Nebraska Medical Center (UNMC) to develop ways to address unmet children’s behavioral health needs that could be replicated statewide.

LB240, introduced by Lincoln Sen. Matt Hansen, would remove the Sept. 6, 2015, termination date for the program and an existing cap on the number of clinic sites.

Hansen said the screening program is included in UNMC’s budget, so LB240 would have no fiscal impact on the state.

“We seem to have great consensus that this is an effective program to make sure that behavioral health care is available in more and more communities throughout our state,” he said.

Joe Evans, director of the psychology department at UNMC, testified in support of the bill. Nebraska currently has a shortage and maldistribution of behavioral health care providers, he said, and having a program that can screen children during primary care provider visits has proven successful.

Evans said 88 of Nebraska’s 93 counties are identified by the federal government as behavioral health provider shortage areas.

UNMC psychology professor Kathryn Menousek also testified in support, saying the program hopes to expand to five or six sites throughout the state.

“This would allow greater access to behavioral health services to many Nebraska families,” she said.

No opposition testimony was offered and the committee took no immediate action on the bill.

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