WASHINGTON – U.S. Senators Ben Cardin (D-Md.), Bill Cassidy, M.D. (R-La.), Tina Smith (D-Minn.) and John Thune (R-S.D.), introduced the bipartisan Telemental Health Care Access Act of 2021 to remove barriers to telemental health services for Medicare beneficiaries.
“Telehealth has been essential for maintaining and expanding access to healthcare services during the COVID19 pandemic. This is especially true for those seeking mental health counseling and medical management, as we have seen spikes in anxiety, depression, substance abuse, domestic violence and suicide resulting from social isolation,” said Senator Cardin. “This legislation provides additional flexibility to increase access for Medicare beneficiaries needing mental health services.”
“Over the pandemic, we’ve seen an increased need for telehealth services whether it’s for substance use disorders, physical ailments or mental health issues. Medicare patients deserve direct access to telemental health services and this bill removes barriers to make this possible,” said Dr. Cassidy.
“Telehealth has proved to be an important lifeline and tool to close some of the most significant gaps in patients’ access to health care services,” said Senator Smith. “During the pandemic, telehealth helped eased Americans’ fears by allowing them to avoid the risk of visiting a hospital or clinic. Now we have the opportunity to build on this success by passing our bipartisan bill to make sure Medicare patients are able to access telemental health services without additional barriers.”
“The past year and a half has taken an immense toll on the mental health of millions of Americans,” said Senator Thune. “It has proven that telemental health services are even more critical than we had previously imagined. We must ensure that these potentially life-saving services continue to be available after the pandemic ends. This legislation would continue to remove barriers to mental health care while better aligning this benefit with others that have been recently directed by Congress, such as my eTREAT Act and FAST Act.”
Specifically, the bill removes the statutory requirement that Medicare beneficiaries be seen in person within six months of being treated for mental health services through telehealth. Last year’s end-of-year package permanently expanded access for Medicare patients to be treated in their home and other sites for mental health services, but unfortunately put in place an arbitrary requirement that would require the patient to be seen in-person before they could receive telemental services. The Telemental Health Care Access Act of 2021 eliminates this in-person requirement so that patients can directly access mental health services via telehealth.
This bill is consistent with how substance use disorder (SUD) telehealth services are covered under Medicare – passed as part of the SUPPORT for Patients and Communities Act in 2018, which eliminated certain requirements for SUD services so patients can access treatment from their home through telehealth.
“Our highest praise and gratitude to Senators Cassidy, Smith, Cardin and Thune for their steady leadership and clear priority to bring telehealth services to the American people, including those in rural and underserved communities. The Telemental Health Care Access Act is a critical piece of legislation that would repeal the telemental health in-person requirement. Passing this legislation, and ensuring this unnecessary requirement is not repeated for other services, along with other pieces of legislation that make the telehealth waivers permanent, could not be a higher priority for the ATA and our members,” said Ann Mond Johnson, CEO of the American Telemedice Association. “The ATA is very proud to collaborate with our Senate champions and enthusiastically endorse this important bill. This is a major step forward for and we will continue to work with policymakers to ensure that telehealth becomes a permanent treatment modality in healthcare delivery.”
“The American Foundation for Suicide Prevention commends Senators Bill Cassidy, Tina Smith, Ben Cardin and John Thune for ensuring expansions of telemental health, post the pandemic, work to encourage help-seeking for older adults, rather than create barriers to timely mental health care,” said Laurel Stine, Senior Vice President, Public Policy of the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention. “One of the leading causes of suicide among older adults is depression, and early identification and effective treatment is paramount in saving lives.”
The Telemental Health Care Access Act of 2021 is supported by the American Telemedicine Association, American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, American Psychological Association, REDC Consortium, Eating Disorders Coalition for Research, Policy & Action, National Association for Behavioral Healthcare, Alliance of Community Health Plans, National Alliance for Mental Illness, Teladoc Health, Federation of American Hospitals, VoCare, Health Innovation Alliance, HIMSS, PCHAlliance, American Psychiatric Association, Alliance for Connected Care, Doctor on Demand, Intermountain Healthcare, Johns Hopkins Medicine, The Jewish Federations of North America, eHealth Initiative, Ro, STCHealth, CoverMyMeds, National Council for Mental Wellbeing, athenahealth, Hims & Hers, Association for Behavioral Health and Wellness, GO2 Foundation for Lung Cancer, Partnership to Advance Virtual Care, CoverMyMeds, Alliance for Connected Care, Teladoc Health, Centerstone, and 3M Health Information Systems.