In testimony before the House Education and Labor Subcommittee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions, Brian Smedley, PhD, APA’s chief of psychology in the public interest encouraged congressional action to address the increasing rates of mental health and substance use disorders, particularly for disadvantaged populations, due to COVID-19, social inequality, and injustice. Sharing APA’s findings from recent Stress in America polling, Smedley encouraged congressional members to take a population health approach to achieve health equity, to come together as a nation and in our communities to ensure that the most vulnerable among us get the help they need, and to build the social capital that will help us better weather the storms to come. See the APA press release.
Recognizing the rising impact of mental health and substance use issues due to COVID-19, the hearing was focused on addressing traditional barriers to access, including the longstanding lack of enforcement of mental health parity. Smedley expressed strong support for the Parity Enforcement Act of 2021 (H.R. 1364), sponsored by Rep. Donald Norcross (D-N.J.), which would strengthen the Department of Labor’s (DOL) enforcement authority over self-insured health plans.
Given the critical role that telehealth services, including audio-only telehealth, has played in addressing health disparities during the COVID-19 pandemic, Smedley also called for permanent Medicare coverage for these services. Medicare coverage for these services is slated to end at the end of the COVID-19 public health emergency, and many individuals―including, but not limited to, older adults, individuals with disabilities, people in rural and frontier areas with unreliable broadband―will lose access to needed services. Smedley testified in support of the bipartisan Tele-Mental Health Improvement Act (H.R. 2264), sponsored by Reps. David Trone (D-Md.) and Brian Fitzpatrick (R-Penn.), which would help support behavioral health providers and their patients by requiring these plans—during and shortly after the current public health emergency—to reimburse for telebehavioral health services, including those services furnished via audio-only communication, at the same rate as in-person services, if telehealth for those services would otherwise be covered. Additionally, it would prevent such plans from imposing more restrictive barriers to coverage for telehealth services than in-person services.