Gov. Abbott Names Mental Health Issues As Emergency Items For The Texas Legislature | KERA News

Gov. Abbott Names Mental Health Issues As Emergency Items For The Texas Legislature

Feb 5, 2019

Texas Governor Greg Abbott made mental health care one of the primary themes of his State of the State address Tuesday, including more student mental health screenings.

The screenings would be part of his school safety plan, which was formed in response to last year's Santa Fe High School shooting. He says programs like these have helped to remove potentially dangerous students from some Texas schools.

“School districts across the entire state deserve access to these very same services,” Abbott says.

Abbott also cited as an emergency item a bill filed by Flower Mound Republican Jane Nelson, which would create a statewide mental health care consortium. The group would be tasked with expanding services throughout the state and improving access to care.

“Mental health issues are not just confined to our schools,” Abbott says. “They touch our entire society.”

The governor also called for fully funding mental health programs for veterans. In their response to Abbott's speech, Democratic lawmakers signaled their support for increased mental health funding.

“We salute the governor’s comments on mental health and agree, we absolutely must do more on mental health care,” said Rep. Chris Turner, a democrat from Arlington, “but it was disappointing the governor did not address the fact that Texas still has the highest rate of uninsured and the highest number of uninsured of any state in the country.”

A 2018 analysis from the Center for Public Policy Priorities found the uninsured rate in Texas is growing, attributing the trend in part to Texas opting out of Medicaid expansion under the Affordable Care Act.

Greg Hansch, public policy director with the Texas chapter of the National Alliance on Mental Illness, says he was pleased to see mental health legislation highlighted in the governor’s address, but he says it was a missed opportunity to talk about the staggering number of uninsured Texans.

“Access to insurance can be a really critical touchpoint for people with mental illness,” Hansch said. “We would strongly encourage Texas to close the coverage gap and expand Medicaid in this legislative session.”