May 6, 2021

Senator Haskell Supports Extending Telehealth, Promotes Mental Health Services for Young Adults, Protects Reproductive Health and Freedom

Early this morning and Wednesday, State Senator Will Haskell (D-Westport) voted in favor of multiple bills before the Senate, including an extension of telehealth services, a reform to promote mental health services for young people, and a protection of reproductive health and freedom for pregnant women. Each of these steps will build a healthier Connecticut.

“Today was a great day in the Senate, as we took bold action to promote better health outcomes for our constituents,” said Sen. Haskell. “Perhaps most importantly, I’m proud that Senate Bill 2 incorporates the feedback I’ve heard from young people in my community and expands access to confidential health care services. We know that this past year has been especially challenging for students, and in the months and years ahead we must promote their mental wellness.”

Senate Bill 2, “An Act Concerning Social Equity and the Health, Safety and Education of Children,” makes various changes to laws affecting children and pupils through the Departments of Children and Families, Education, Public Health and Office of Early Childhood, in addition to local and regional boards of education, including:

  • Current law requires a mental health provider to gain consent from the parent or guardian of a minor receiving outpatient mental health treatment after six sessions, which can have a chilling effect on engagement in mental health care for minors. The bill removes that restriction, allowing minors to receive outpatient mental health treatment indefinitely without requiring consent, unless that disclosure will benefit the minor, the treatment does not involve substance use disorder, and the minor is given an opportunity to object to such disclosure.
  • Beginning in the 2021-22 school year, school districts will be required to offer remote parent-teacher conferences by telephone or video; conduct additional parent-teacher conferences during periods of virtual learning; and request an emergency contact person for planning and scheduling of virtual parent-teacher conferences.
  • Beginning in 2021-22, any student can take up to two mental health wellness days during the school year.
  • Beginning in 2021-22, schools must prohibit publicly identifying or shaming a child for unpaid meal charges by delaying or refusing their service, designating specific meals for them or disciplining them. The child would also have a right to purchase one meal per day and boards of education would also have procedures to communicate/collect unpaid meal charges.
  • Boards could also accept gifts, donations or grants from any source to pay off unpaid meal charges. Families accruing significant debt can be referred to local services like food pantries, free and reduced meal applications and others as needed.
  • The Department of Children and Families must ensure children in care and custody receive visits from parents and siblings unless ordered by a court. In the event of a pandemic or outbreak, those visits must be allowed to occur by telephone, virtually or other platforms if in-person visitation is barred. It also allows a policy to stop in-person visitation on a case-by-case basis if a child or their relative is seriously ill and a visit could lead to that disease being contracted.
  • The Department of Children and Families must develop and maintain an application for reporting nonemergency incidents and for children in DCF care to communicate with their social worker.
  • After receiving a complaint of neglect or abuse of a child, the Department of Children and Families will provide parents with notice of rights clarifying their right to have an attorney at any meeting pertaining to the child’s removal and a list of free or low-cost legal services.
  • Birth-to-Three services for children will no longer carry parent fees.
  • Any child enrolled in Birth-To-Three turning three on or after May 1 and not later than the first day of the next school year is eligible for participation in a summer preschool program until their enrollment in a preschool program during the school year.
  • Families whose children age out of Birth-to-Three but do not qualify for Part B will be encouraged to take online assessments to track developmental and social-emotional delays in partnership with local or regional boards of education.
  • A 25-member task force to study children’s needs in Connecticut will be developed, focused on children’s needs to be healthy, learn in safe environments, be actively engaged in learning, have access to personalized learning and to be challenged academically.
  • Physician assistants, physical therapists, occupational therapists, registered and licensed practical nurses, nurse aides, behavior analysts, certified community health workers and emergency medical staff will be required to take two hours of training and education on suicide prevention and conditions such as PTSD, suicide risk, depression and grief when applying for or renewing a license.

“We’ve learned a lot during the COVID-19 pandemic, and one critical lesson is that patients appreciate the opportunity to meet with their doctors and counselors from the comfort of their own home. This bill will extend telehealth coverage, making sure that virtual visits with a medical professional are properly compensated by insurance companies.”

Senate Bill 1022, “An Act Concerning Telehealth,” extends proper insurance coverage for telehealth visits, intended to expand access to necessary healthcare while reducing obstacles necessary to receive that care. It will extend telehealth services for another two years, allowing patients and providers with continued flexibility utilizing a tool that greatly benefits those seeking health services in the state through June 30, 2023. Services will include expanded provider availability and licensed professionals that can provide telehealth services including but not limited to dentists, therapists, physician assistants and behavior analysts; telehealth by audio-only without requiring video; and licensed providers in other states being able to adopt minimum professional liability insurance coverage.

Dozens of doctors and medical professionals statewide endorsed this legislation, which would allow for wider adoption of key health care services over telephone or video calls. Even after the COVID-19 pandemic ends, the technology will remain valuable for many patients.

“Crisis pregnancy centers don’t need to offer the full spectrum of reproductive healthcare — but they shouldn’t be allowed to deceptively advertise their services to pregnant women. Delaying reproductive healthcare choices can have serious consequences, and I know this bill will hold bad actors accountable. Truth in advertising is important in all industries, but it’s especially important when it comes to healthcare,” said Sen. Haskell. “This bill fulfills our mission to provide high-quality reproductive healthcare choices to all.”

Senate Bill 835, “An Act Concerning Deceptive Advertising Practices of Limited Services Pregnancy Centers,” prohibits deceptive advertising by pregnancy services centers that do not directly provide or make referrals to abortion or emergency contraception services. Those centers are prohibited from performing pregnancy-related services if they are found to make deceptive claims about their services that they should know are deceptive. If a center does not respond to or fix a violation within 10 days, the Attorney General can apply to a court for related injunctive relief. The prohibition includes public statements made in advertisements, print publications, online and elsewhere and applies regardless of whether a center makes the statement themselves or causes others to do so, if the statement itself is deceptive or deceptive by omission.

This legislation comes in response to past instances where crisis pregnancy centers have been found to make false claims or misrepresent the services they offer. In some cases, crisis pregnancy centers are found to attempt to look like family planning clinics but misrepresent their offerings and provide inaccurate information to potential clients. The American Medical Association reported in 2018 of CPCs participating in “inherently unethical practices.”

The legislation is focused solely on centers that are actively deceptive in advertising due to the time-sensitive nature of reproductive health services; a pregnant woman being delayed in learning options available to her can contribute to the loss of safe methods of care and a loss of the ability to terminate a pregnancy. The bill does not limit free speech but ensures advertising follows set standards.