Impact as of October 2021
Additional legislation to preserve access to audio-only telehealth has been introduced in the House and Senate and the Biden administration has announced grants to expand access to broadband and telehealth training for providers and technical assistance to improve access.
The House Appropriations Committees are starting to release their annual appropriations bills. On July 15, the Committee released the second largest of the 12 funding bills (PDF, 465KB), the Labor, Health, and Human Services, Education, and Related Agencies (Labor-HHS), which included $25 million for graduate psychology education (GPE), a $6 million increase over FY21’s enacted level. It also provided $20.3 for the MFP currently funded at $16.2M. The president’s budget requested $17.1 million for FY 2022. The House passed this legislation on July 29, so advocacy efforts are now focused on the Senate.
More than 400 psychologists met with congressional leaders as part of the Advocacy Summit on Telehealth and Health Equity hosted by APA Services, Inc. (APASI). Participants attended to preserve Medicare and private insurance coverage of critical telemental health services and increase support for psychology workforce training programs to increase health equity of underserved communities. The Hill day follows recent congressional testimony of APA CEO Arthur C. Evans Jr., PhD, who called for a population health approach to addressing the mental health and substance use disorder crisis of the COVID-19 pandemic.
As APA’s Stress in America polling has shown, individuals are not only reporting rising mental health concerns during the pandemic, but the prolonged stress reported by Americans is seriously impacting their physical health, including changes to weight, sleep, and alcohol use.
Last year, in response to the COVID-19 public health emergency, APA successfully advocated for expanded support for telehealth and the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services temporarily lifted some in-person requirements to ensure patient access to health care services, including coverage of audio-only telemental and behavioral health services. Research shows telehealth services delivery is effective, and coverage expansions have provided a lifeline for patients living in rural areas without reliable internet coverage or populations who may have difficulties accessing the required technology, such as older adults or those with disabilities. Over 41,000 messages were sent by psychologists to Congress to fight for Medicare reimbursement for telehealth services, as well as 11,000 regulatory comments opposing proposed cuts for psychologists under the Proposed Physician Fee Schedule.
To preserve patient access to psychological services and advance health equity, psychologists are now advocating for congressional support for two key telehealth issues: expanding access to telehealth services—including audio-only services—for the provision of mental health care for Medicare patients, and extending telebehavioral health reimbursement parity in ERISA self-insured group health plans. Participants are also urging Congress to support increased funding for key psychology workforce programs: the Graduate Psychology Education program, which supports the interprofessional training and placement of psychologists who specialize in working with underserved populations or in communities with shortages of mental and behavioral health providers; and the Minority Fellowship Program, which supports training for psychologists to improve mental and behavioral health outcomes for people from diverse cultural and ethnic backgrounds.
To add your voice to their efforts, join APASI’s Call for Congressional Telehealth Service Coverage Protections.