The new bill loosens telehealth requirements and promotes non-opioid pain management.

After several months of consideration and with strong bipartisan support, Congress has passed wide-ranging legislation to combat the opioid epidemic. President Trump is expected to sign the bill — entitled the “SUPPORT for Patients and Communities Act” — into law soon. Although the legislation will not by itself devote substantial new funding to increase treatment, it improves several federal policies that will impact practicing psychologists.

The American Psychological Association government relations staff worked throughout the year to help shape the legislation. Here’s how the SUPPORT Act will help practitioners who provide treatment to patients with substance use disorders.

Information sharing and electronic health records incentives

The SUPPORT Act fulfills one of APA’s long-standing goals: gaining federal support for psychologists’ use of electronic health records technology. The bill gives the Centers for Medicaid and Medicare Innovation the authority to make incentive payments to psychologists and other behavioral health providers to use electronic health records.

The bill also expands access to telehealth services for Medicare beneficiaries with substance use disorders — including for treatment of co-occurring mental disorders — by allowing the patient’s home to be the “originating site” for services effective July 1, 2019. Under current policy, the patient’s home is not considered an “originating site.”

The act maintains current federal law protections for the privacy of substance abuse treatment information. Some advocates and lawmakers sought to synchronize the use and disclosure of substance use treatment information with privacy requirements under the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act, to allow greater information sharing among treatment providers.  

Instead, the act requires the Department of Health and Human Services to develop best practices for displaying substance use treatment information in electronic health records, and to establish model training programs for providers, patients and families on permitted uses and disclosures of patients’ substance use treatment records.

More Medicaid coverage and better pain management services

The SUPPORT Act will increase access to treatment under Medicaid by temporarily allowing states to cover up to 30 days per year of substance use disorder treatment within an “institution for mental disease” consisting of more than 16 inpatient beds. The act also requires state Medicaid programs to cover medication-assisted treatment, including both counseling and other behavioral services and all medications, including methadone, approved by the Food and Drug Administration to treat opioid use disorder. 

The act also seeks to prevent opioid use disorders by expanding access to non-opioid pain management, including through psychological and other nonpharmaceutical treatments. The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services will be required to issue guidance to both Medicare-participating hospitals and to state Medicaid agencies on coverage of non-opioid pain treatment and management.

APA will continue to work with members of Congress to expand access to prevention, treatment and recovery services, including through increasing federal spending on these programs.  Drug overdose deaths are continuing to rise, and the crisis is far from over. Please contact our office via email should you have specific questions on the SUPPORT Act.