Kansas mental health panel sets sights on telehealth, care accessibility

By: - September 28, 2021 6:01 pm

The 2021 Special Committee on Mental Health Modernization and Reform, led by Rep. Brenda Landwehr, will review recommendations still requiring lawmakers’ attention for an updated report to the Legislature. (NoahTaborda/Kansas Reflector)

TOPEKA — A Kansas committee tasked with providing mental health policy recommendations will reconsider telehealth treatment and payment options in its 2021 report.

During the legislative session earlier this year, lawmakers considered several recommendations from the 2020 Special Committee on Mental Health Modernization and Reform’s 152-page report. Most notably, the panel advocated for House Bill 2208, now signed into law, which created certified behavioral health clinics and authorized out-of-state physicians to provide telemedicine services in Kansas.

However, many suggestions fizzled, leaving the committee to continue working on those recommendations and improve upon them.

“I’ve had a lot of people question what’s going on with telehealth because we did introduce legislation last year,” said Rep. Brenda Landwehr, a Wichita Republican and chairwoman of the panel. “That bill got halted in committee because of the discussion of rate parity, so I am assuming that will be part of the discussion.”

Of the 22 recommendations made in the 2020 report from the committee, just five were completed at the Statehouse this spring. The 2021 Committee on Mental Health Modernization set the course Tuesday for several upcoming meetings to revise and add on to elements of last year’s report.

The working groups for the committee are focused on telehealth, services, workforce, system capacity, funding and accessibility of data systems. Kari Bruffett, vice president for policy at the Kansas Health Institute, said this year’s working groups would have the benefit of a strong framework.

“The chair last year talked a few times about wanting to think of the strategic framework report that we all produced as a living document,” Bruffett said. “One way that we honor that idea is with the recommendations as the basis of the framework for the work that’s going on and the working groups really focusing the discussion there.”

KHI will help facilitate and organize discussions from the workgroups, which will meet virtually for 90 minutes. Each group is expected to gather three or four times between October and early December.

Other topics of interest raised by committee members for their work this fall include veteran treatment courts, the K-12 Mental Health Intervention Pilot Program and issues of racial equity. Sen. Michael Fagg, an El Dorado Republican, said the committee ought to consider the subject of accountability for past and future recommendations.

“When we go through and we’re assessing these different areas, do we address some way to measure and make all these plans knowing that we’re headed in the right direction, or do you wait till they actually get through the process and are completed?” Fagg asked. “At some point we need to start assessing accountability.”

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Noah Taborda
Noah Taborda

Noah Taborda started his journalism career in public radio at KBIA in Columbia, Missouri, covering local government and producing an episode of the podcast Show Me The State while earning his bachelor’s degree in radio broadcasting at the University of Missouri School of Journalism. Noah then made a short move to Kansas City, Missouri, to work at KCUR as an intern on the talk show Central Standard and then in the newsroom, reporting on daily news and feature stories.

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