Utah lawmakers reject bill calling for mental-health care to be based on scientific evidence

Utah lawmakers on Wednesday rejected a bill meant to promote research-proven mental-health treatment in Utah, saying the measure needed more work, and referred it instead for further study.

HB199, sponsored by Rep. Kelly Miles, R-Ogden, would push mental-health and substance-abuse facilities in Utah to use more “evidence-based” treatment programs backed by substantial scientific research.

HB199 also would require Utah’s 13 publicly funded treatment centers to report to state officials which programs they are using that are evidence-based. And the state would form a special task force to study the performance of the centers, based on mental-health outcomes and other factors.

“There are people doing good things [with mental-health treatment], but we can do better,” Miles said. “The fact that everybody has a different definition of what works and doesn’t work ought to show us what the problem is.”

HB199 defines treatments as evidence-based when they are proven to have positive outcomes in at least two randomized scientific trials or studies. An early version would have required that those centers use evidence-based treatment or risk losing taxpayer funding, but that provision was removed.

Still, a House committee voted 10-2 on Thursday to reject HB199, instead requesting that the Legislature’s Health Reform Task Force study the issue over the summer.

Several lawmakers and clinical social workers said they were worried the bill would limit care providers’ ability to deploy what they felt were the best treatment strategies for patients — even if those methods weren’t backed up by research.

“We’re treating individuals,” said Rep. Ed Redd, a Logan physician. “Sometimes … we can use evidence-based models. But what we find is, sometimes what is typically recommended or typically done doesn’t work for that individual, and we have to pull back and do something different that may not be evidence-based.”

Darin Carver, an administrator at Weber Human Services in Ogden, who backs the legislation, said the term “evidence-based” in mental-health treatment is currently “loosely used” in Utah.

“It’s impossible for clients to know exactly what has truly been shown to have a significant impact,” said Carver, who added that Weber Human Services has seen improved mental-health outcomes with its clients after putting in place more evidence-based treatment programs.

“Right now, much of what is delivered in our field is driven by expert opinion or case report,” he added. “We think we can do better than that.”