Senate OKs DiMario bills to cover youth crisis response and community health worker services


STATE HOUSE — The Senate today voted to approve two bills from Sen. Alana M. DiMario to provide stable funding for youth crisis response teams and community health workers by requiring private insurance to cover their services.

The bills now head to the House where Rep. Teresa A. Tanzi (D-Dist. 34, South Kingstown, Narragansett) has introduced companion legislation (2024-H 7874, 2024-H 7875).

“Both of these bills provide more stable funding through private insurance coverage for important community health programs that are currently funded primarily through expiring grants,” said Senator DiMario (D-Dist. 36, Narragansett, North Kingstown, New Shoreham), who works as a licensed mental health counselor in private practice. “It’s time to treat mobile crisis response teams and community health workers, who improve outcomes for patients, fill gaps in our continuum of care and reduce overall costs, as essential components of our state’s health care system that must be sustained. Insurance coverage is an essential first step in this process.”

The first bill (2024-S 2606A) would require private insurance to cover the services provided by community health workers. Community health workers – sometimes known as “promotores de salud,” coaches, lay health advisors or peer navigators – are public health professionals who serve as links between their communities and needed health or social services.

“Community health workers are an integral part of the care team,” said Matthew Roman, COO at Thundermist Health Center. “Their work is impactful in helping patients lead healthy lives and addresses challenges like housing, food insecurity, transportation and social needs. This legislation makes health care worker programs more sustainable and helps ensure patients get these important services.”

While community health workers are now able to bill Medicaid for their work, most positions in Rhode Island are funded through grants from the federal government and private foundations. Allowing community health workers to bill private insurance for their work will provide a more stable funding platform as these grants expire.

The second bill (2024-S 2607A) would require private insurers to cover the costs of mobile crisis response and stabilization services for youth. These services provide trained behavioral health clinicians in response to behavioral health crisis calls, who are better able than local emergency medical services to deescalate crises and provide the crisis counseling and follow-up needed to keep youth out of emergency rooms. This provides better patient outcomes for youth in crisis and reduces the strain on over-burdened emergency departments.

“The implementation of mobile response and stabilization services for youth is a game-changer in behavioral health care,” said Beth A. Bixby, CEO of Tides Family Services. “This approach allows for immediate, on-site intervention tailored to the specific needs of the youth and their families. This proactive service prevents the escalation of crises, reduces trauma associated with emergency room visits, and ensures continuity of care through follow-up services. It supports the youth in their natural environment, promoting a sense of safety and stability which is essential for positive outcomes.”

The Rhode Island Executive Office of Health and Human Services has run a pilot program in northern Rhode Island since November 2022. During this program, 92% of youth have been stabilized and diverted from local emergency departments. With state funding for this successful pilot set to expire in September 2024, Senator DiMario’s bill aims to incorporate youth mobile crisis response services into the standard continuum of care by funding these services directly through private insurance.

“The current youth mental health crisis requires us to think and act differently in addressing the behavioral health needs of our children. Community health workers play vital roles in helping families navigate our complicated health care system and access the services their children need. Youth mobile crisis services reduce needless and costly visits to local emergency departments and provide the immediate crisis counseling and stabilization support required. Without stable funding streams, these successful and cost-effective services are in jeopardy. We are grateful for Senator DiMario’s proactive leadership in working to sustain these essential services,” said Susan Orban, director of the Washington County Coaltion for Children.



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