After receiving testimony from medical professionals Thursday, legislators now have the option to pass 10 bills regarding statewide mental health care out of an Assembly committee.
Included in the 10 bills are grant programs to incentivize Wisconsin medical students to practice in rural areas, establish a child psychiatry consultation program and allow for the release of mental health records to primary care physicians.
One of the bills would establish a pilot program to give funds to 24 Wisconsin new primary care physicians and psychiatrists to encourage them to practice in rural areas that face a shortage of such doctors.
Many new physicians are skeptical about working in rural areas because pay in rural areas is often much lower than in urban areas, a critical aspect since their debt post-medical school is high, Kenneth Schellhase, director of the Wisconsin Academy of Family Physicians, said.
“Encouraging new physicians to practice in underserved communities is really quite a challenge,” Schellhase said.
Rep. Chris Kapenga, R-Delafield, said his concern stems from giving taxpayer dollars to incentivize behavior without being able to measure whether the program will work.
Kapenga added he wants to see growth in the number of physicians in these areas before expanding the program, which the bill would do in 2016.
In addition to the bill establishing the pilot program, another bill would allow the release of mental health records to primary care physicians. Rick Hafer, vice chair of patient care in the University of Wisconsin Department of Psychiatry, said allowing the release of medical records would help prevent putting patients at risk, especially when several different doctors are prescribing drugs.
Hafer said he could recall one of his patients, who was diagnosed with bipolar disorder, was treated with lithium, but sought out a dermatologist for a skin condition. The patient was then prescribed a drug by the dermatologist that had an adverse effect with the lithium in the patient’s system, leading to “serious consequences” for both the patient and the doctors.
“I think the more information that can be shared with primary care doctors and especially the provider, the more assurances we have for the overall protection of health of the patients being served,” Hafer said.
Former mental health provider, Rep. Sandy Pasch, D-Whitefish Bay, said if the bill works the right way, it will greatly improve the coordination of care between multiple physicians.
However, Pasch said the release of information could lead to more stigma towards the patient because more doctors have access to those records and could question the patients.
William Parke-Sutherland, executive director of the Grassroots Empowerment Project that seeks to address stigmas surrounding mental health, said as a person who has experienced his own mental health issues, he was frustrated when his doctor questioned him about what he was feeling.
“As soon as somebody found out they were on medication for anti-psychotic or on anti-depression medications, they started getting questions about whether their symptoms are real or whether it was in their head,” Parke-Sutherland said. “I know what it’s like to have my doctor question me, and it’s a decision I’ll think differently on in the future.”
Committee of Health members will vote whether to move the 10 bills from the speaker’s task force on mental health out of committee and to the general Assembly at a meeting Tuesday.