June 26, 2020

Young, King Introduce Bill to Expand Mental Telehealth Services for Medicare Beneficiaries

WASHINGTON – U.S. Senators Todd Young (R-Ind.) and Angus King (I-Maine) have introduced the Mental and Behavioral Health Connectivity Act, legislation to allow Medicare beneficiaries to continue to access mental and behavior health services through telehealth in the near term and after the coronavirus pandemic subsides. Currently, authorizations included in the CARES Act create additional flexibility which allows the use of telehealth for mental and behavioral healthcare; however, these expansions only extend through the pandemic.

 “Enabling Americans to access medical care and mental health services through telehealth is critical during this public health crisis. By allowing Medicare beneficiaries to continue receiving mental and behavioral health services remotely, this bipartisan bill will help keep patients safe as they continue to socially distance, and after we emerge from the coronavirus pandemic,” said Senator Young.

The Young-King legislation would permanently expand these provisions, allow Medicare beneficiaries to keep receiving care in their home, continue eligibility of care for the expanded list of non-physician providers, and allow Medicare to cover audio-only delivery of telehealth services.

“As the coronavirus pandemic has created social distancing guidelines that forced many to stay at home to protect their communities, Americans are appreciating the alternative offered by telehealth in order to continue seeing their healthcare providers,” said Senator King. “Though we may be physically separated from our friends, family, neighbors, and healthcare providers, telehealth helps ensure that Americans facing challenges can still tap into their life-saving support systems, and opens up new opportunities to help Americans seeking mental health care for the first time. That’s an accomplishment worth building on, even after this crisis is over.

According to the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid (CMS), weekly telehealth visits increased from 12,000 a week before the coronavirus spread in March to more than 1 million a week across the country. CMS Administrator Seema Verma has acknowledged that returning to the status quo isn’t feasible, stating, “I can’t imagine going back…People recognize the value of this, so it seems like it would not be a good thing to force our beneficiaries to go back to in-person visits.”

Nearly one in five adults in the U.S. live with a mental illness, which was equivalent to 46.6 million Americans in 2017, according to the National Institutes of Health (NIH). A study conducted before the pandemic on Medicare beneficiaries found that 4.2 percent of total Medicare spending went to mental health services and 8.5 percent went to additional medical spending associated with mental illness, for a total of 12.7 percent of total spending associated with mental health disorders. Of particular concern is access to adequate mental and behavioral health services in rural areas with unreliable or non-existent internet service.

The Mental and Behavioral Health Connectivity Act is supported by: American Counseling Association, American Psychiatric Association, American Psychological Association, Mental Health for America, National Association of Social Workers, National Association of State Mental Health Program Directors, and the National Suicide Prevention Foundation.