WASHINGTON – U.S. Senators Bill Cassidy, M.D. (R-LA), Tina Smith (D-MN), John Thune (R-SD), and Ben Cardin (D-MD) reintroduced the bipartisan Telemental Health Care Access Act to remove barriers to telemental health services for Medicare beneficiaries.
“Since the pandemic, we have seen how telehealth expanded health care access for those with substance use disorders, physical ailments, and mental health conditions. It has been an important lifeline for rural communities,” said Dr. Cassidy. “This bill removes barriers to allow Medicare patients to receive the telemental health services they deserve.”
“Telehealth has proved to be an important lifeline and tool to close some of the most significant gaps in patients’ access to health care services,” said Senator Smith. “Especially for Minnesotans in small towns and rural places suffering from mental health challenges, long commutes to the nearest provider can mean virtual care is the only feasible option. This bill is an important step in making it easier for mental health patients on Medicare to ask for help and get the care they need, without having to jump through administrative hoops.”
“We fought to expand telehealth access during the pandemic and the results demonstrated how critical a tool it is for countless Americans, especially for mental health services,” said Senator Cardin. “Earlier this Congress, I held a hearing in the Senate Finance Health Care Subcommittee where experts detailed the value of telehealth services being covered by Medicare. The experts agreed with the goals of this legislation and reiterated the importance of providing telehealth permanency to continue treating those who would otherwise struggle to get the care they need. Our legislation also provides another opportunity to address the issue of access to care and health disparities. I am proud to join Senators Cassidy, Smith, and Thune in introducing this bill to provide flexibilities and increase access to mental health care for Medicare beneficiaries.”
“South Dakotans have long understood the value of telehealth,” said Senator Thune. “I’m proud to support this common-sense legislation that would strengthen telehealth and expand access to mental health services for Medicare beneficiaries, especially for those in the most rural areas in South Dakota.”
Specifically, the bill removes the statutory requirement that Medicare beneficiaries be seen in person within six months of being treated for mental health services through telehealth. In 2020, Congress permanently expanded access for Medicare patients to be treated in their home and other sites for mental health services. Unfortunately, it also included an arbitrary requirement that would require the patient to be seen in-person before they could receive telemental services. The Telemental Health Care Access Act eliminates this in-person requirement so that patients can directly access mental health services via telehealth.
This bill is consistent with how substance use disorder (SUD) telehealth services are covered under Medicare – passed as part of the SUPPORT for Patients and Communities Act in 2018, which eliminated certain requirements for SUD services so patients can access treatment from their home through telehealth.
The bill is supported by: ACTNow for Mental Health, Alliance for Connected Care, Alliance of Community Health Plans, American Association for Marriage and Family Therapy, American Association for Psychoanalysis in Clinical Social Work, American Association of Psychiatric Pharmacists, American Association on Health and Disability, American Counseling Association, American Mental Health Counselors Association, American Nurses Association, American Psychiatric Association, Anxiety and Depression Association of America, Association for Behavioral Health and Wellness, American Association of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, Centerstone, Children and Adults with Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder, Clinical Social Work Association, Coalition to End Social Isolation and Loneliness, Crisis Text Line, Depression and Bipolar Support Alliance, Eating Disorder Coalition for Research, Policy & Action, Federation of American Hospitals, Health Innovation Alliance, HIMSS, Inseparable, International OCD Foundation, Johns Hopkins Medical, Kennedy Forum, Lakeshore Foundation, Maternal Mental Health Leadership Alliance, Mental Health America, NAADAC, Meadows Mental Health Policy Institute, National Alliance on Mental Illness, National Association for Behavioral Health, National Association of Pediatric Nurse Practitioners, National Association of Social Workers, National Association of State Mental Health Program Directors, National Board for Certified Counselors, National Disability Rights Network, National Eating Disorders Association, National Federation of Families, National League for Nursing, Network of Jewish Human Services Agencies, Partnership to Advance Virtual Care, Postpartum Support International, Patient Access Network (PAN) Foundation, Psychotherapy Action Network, REDC Consortium, RI International, SMART Recovery, Talkiatry, The Jewish Federations of North America, The Trevor Project, and the Wounded Warrior Project.
“The ATA and ATA Action enthusiastically pledge our support to reintroducing the Telemental Health Care Access Act and applaud Senators Cassidy, Thune, Smith, and Cardin, for their continued leadership on this issue. This is a big step towards achieving our goal – to permanently remove the telemental health in person requirement, allowing patients to receive care where and when they need it, especially when they are most vulnerable,” said Kyle Zebley, Senior Vice President, American Telemedicine Association, and Executive Director, ATA Action.
“Telemental health provides vital access to necessary and often life-saving care for millions of people, including older adults and people living in rural areas, which see higher rates of suicide than urban areas,” said Laurel Stine, J.D., M.A., Executive Vice President and Chief Policy Officer of the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention (AFSP). “We applaud Senator Cassidy, Senator Smith, Senator Thune, and Senator Cardin for leading the charge to remove Medicare’s arbitrary in-person visit requirement for telemental health, so patient access to care is not beyond reach, and the merits of telehealth are fully realized. We urge the Senate to pass the Telemental Health Care Access Act without delay.”