WASHINGTON – U.S. Senator Ben Cardin (D-Md.), a senior member of the Senate Finance Committee, joined Chair Ron Wyden (D-Ore.), Ranking Member Mike Crapo (R-Idaho) and member Senator John Thune (R-S.D.) today releasing a discussion draft for telehealth policies as a part of the committee’s ongoing work to improve mental health care across the nation, which has included a public call for comments and three hearings to help develop these initiatives.
“The COVID-19 pandemic has taken a significant toll on the health and well-being individuals and communities, exacerbating longstanding challenges with mental health and substance abuse,” said Senator Cardin. “Telehealth, particularly for behavioral health services, has become an essential component of care, and I am pleased that we have this opportunity to improve access to telemental health care, particularly for underserved communities. I want to thank Senator Thune for his partnership in drafting this bipartisan legislation and Chairman Wyden and Ranking Member Crapo for their leadership. I look forward to our continued partnership as we work to improve access to telemental health services nationwide and make access to telehealth permanent in Medicare.”
“The pandemic made clear that telehealth is a game-changer, particularly so Americans can get mental health care when they need it,” said Senator Wyden. “These policies will help strengthen access, awareness and support for telehealth, including by creating a ‘bill of rights’ for information on the availability of telehealth for mental health care. I want to thank Ranking Member Crapo and Senators Cardin and Thune for their hard work to produce this discussion draft on a bipartisan basis. I look forward to working with the rest of the committee co-chairs of this initiative who are leading the way to craft the remaining important components of the committee’s legislation.”
“Whether for rural communities, urban areas or tribes, telehealth has undoubtedly expanded access in underserved areas, improved care coordination and integration, and provided more privacy to patients to combat stigma,” said Senator Crapo. “The Finance Committee took crucial first steps toward modernizing telehealth coverage for mental health services in late 2020, and I look forward to building on those efforts through this bipartisan process.”
“South Dakotans have long understood the value of telehealth, and the pandemic put a finer point on its importance,” said Senator Thune. “That’s why I’ve appreciated the opportunity to work with Senator Cardin and the committee leaders over the last few months to lay the necessary groundwork to advance policies that strengthen telehealth and expand access to mental health services.”
The discussion draft includes policies that would:
- Remove Medicare’s in-person visit requirement for tele-mental health services.
- Establish benefit transparency for mental health care services delivered via telehealth to inform Americans with Medicare how and when they can access telehealth.
- Preserve access to audio-only mental health coverage in Medicare when necessary and appropriate.
- Direct Medicare and Medicaid to promote and support provider use of telehealth.
- Incentivize states to use their CHIP programs to establish local solutions to serve behavioral health needs in schools, including through telehealth.
The telehealth discussion draft is the first legislative draft released by the committee since it began its mental health care initiative. Other discussion drafts may be released prior to a committee markup. The committee is committed to fully paying for any mental health package with bipartisan, consensus-driven offsets. Earlier this year, the committee announced five areas of focus for addressing shortfalls in mental health care: workforce, care integration, mental health parity, telehealth, and youth.
The full text of the discussion draft can be found here.