The federal government’s decision to loosen certain restrictions on Medicare coverage of services provided via telehealth was a rare silver lining of the COVID-19 pandemic, as it extended behavioral health services to areas and underserved communities that traditionally lacked access to these services. However, APASI is concerned that these same communities may lose access at the end of the COVID-19 public health emergency, creating an “access cliff” at a time when patients and providers will be continuing to combat the mental health impact of the pandemic. Fortunately, over the past several weeks, several bills have been introduced in Congress with APASI’s support that would allow Medicare beneficiaries to continue accessing mental health and substance use services via telehealth. These are:
- The Permanency for Audio-Only Telehealth Act (H.R. 3447), introduced by Rep. Jason Smith (R-MO), and Rep. Josh Gottheimer (D-NJ), which would continue to allow Medicare to cover mental and behavioral health services provided via audio-only telehealth. However, patients must have had one in-person visit or audio/video telehealth visit within the past three years.
- The Telemental Health Care Access Act (S. 2061), introduced by Sens. Bill Cassidy (R-LA), Tina Smith (D-MN), John Thune (R-SD), and Ben Cardin, (D-MD), which would remove a requirement that Medicare beneficiaries receiving services via telehealth have at least one in-person visit every six months.
- The Telemental Health Care Access Act (H.R. 4058), introduced by Rep. Doris Matsui (D-CA), and Rep. Bill Johnson (R-OH), which would eliminate the six-month, in-person service requirement and permanently lift certain Medicare coverage limitations on where the patient can receive telehealth services for behavioral health services. Such limitations were already lifted for mental health and substance use treatment. APA CEO Arthur C. Evans, Jr., PhD, is quoted in Rep. Matsui’s press release as “wholeheartedly” supporting this legislation.
The expansion of access to mental health and substance use services via telehealth is a key issue for the association, and APASI will continue to advocate for the passage of this legislation in both chambers of Congress.
For more information, contact Andrew Strickland.