Johnson, Matsui Reintroduce Bill to Eliminate Barriers to Telemental Health Services
Washington, May 16, 2023
Tags: Health Care
Today, Congresswoman Doris Matsui (D-CA) and Congressman Bill Johnson (R-OH), both senior members of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, reintroduced the Telemental Health Care Access Act, legislation that would remove barriers to high-quality, virtual mental and behavioral health care for Medicare beneficiaries:
Today, Congresswoman Doris Matsui (D-CA) and Congressman Bill Johnson (R-OH), both senior members of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, reintroduced the Telemental Health Care Access Act, legislation that would remove barriers to high-quality, virtual mental and behavioral health care for Medicare beneficiaries.
Specifically, the bill removes the requirement that doctors see Medicare beneficiaries in-person within six months of being treated virtually for mental and behavioral health concerns. Eliminating this arbitrary in-person requirement will ensure that patients can fully leverage telehealth to get the care they need from home.
“The pandemic forced the nation to capitalize on the benefits of virtual care, and its positive impact was crystal clear for telemental health care,” said Congresswoman Matsui. “The option of telehealth makes it easier for patients to pick up the phone, follow through on their appointments, and seek care sooner. That’s why we need to continue to remove arbitrary barriers like the in-person requirement that restrict access to telemental health services. We have far more than just a foundation for telehealth now – we have a nation relying on these services. That’s why I’m proud to reintroduce this bipartisan legislation to help make this access permanent.”
“If we didn’t learn anything else from the COVID-19 pandemic, it is that telehealth is a proven solution for many parts of America where access to healthcare is a concern. In fact, since the onset of the pandemic, we’ve seen a huge increase in the demand for telehealth services—especially telemental health services,” said Congressman Johnson. “Telemental health is a great fit for patients isolated at home due to illnesses and for those unable to access specialized health care in rural areas of our country—like Appalachia Ohio. It’s time to eliminate the needless bureaucratic red tape preventing Medicare patients from accessing telemental health services. I am honored to have partnered with my colleague, Congresswoman Doris Matsui, to introduce this common-sense bipartisan bill. I’m hopeful this legislation will be approved by the full House soon.”
“Eliminating barriers to accessing telehealth by removing the arbitrary ‘in-person requirement’ for Medicare coverage will improve access to care and help patients get the treatment they need for mental health conditions like depression and anxiety,” said Laurel Stine, J.D., M.A., Executive Vice President and Chief Policy Officer at the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention. “Telemental and behavioral health care services can provide shorter wait times, increase patient privacy, and reduce stigma. Access to telehealth is particularly important for those who lack the resources, physical ability, or transportation to visit an in-person provider, including in rural communities where suicide rates are consistently higher than in urban areas. AFSP is proud to support the Telemental Health Care Access Act, and we urge Congress to act quickly to support this bipartisan legislation.”
“Telehealth continues to demonstrate its value in expanding access to behavioral health services in rural and other underserved areas,” said Arthur C. Evans Jr., PhD, CEO of the American Psychological Association. “Clinicians agree that telehealth is here to stay, as 96% of psychological practitioners who are already using telehealth say they intend to continue offering such services after the end of the COVID-19 public health emergency. This legislation is critical to ensuring that Medicare providers can continue offering these services to the same degree. We applaud Rep. Matsui for her leadership on telehealth and urge Congress to pass the Telemental Health Care Access Act.”
“The current telehealth flexibilities have been a lifeline for patients seeking mental health and substance use treatment especially in rural and urban underserved areas. At a time of unprecedented demand, it is vital that we remove unnecessary barriers and ensure continuity of care for those who need mental health services,” said APA CEO and Medical Director Saul Levin, M.D., M.P.A. “The APA applauds Representatives Matsui and Johnson for introducing the Telemental Health Care Access Act that would increase access to telemental services by permanently removing the 6-month in-person requirement.”
“We appreciate that Congress permanently removed the outdated geographic and originating site waivers for telemental health, yet patients will still need to have an in-person visit with their healthcare provider before qualifying for that service starting next year – requirements that are not clinically appropriate and only serve to limit access to necessary care,” said Kyle Zebley, Senior Vice President, Public Policy, American Telemedicine Association, and Executive Director, ATA Action. “That’s why the Telemental Health Care Access Act, introduced by longstanding telehealth champions, Rep. Doris Matsui and Rep. Bill Johnson, is so important. It will permanently finalize Congress’ vision that Medicare beneficiaries can have access to telemental health services when and where they need it, bipartisan legislation we strongly support.”
“Sincere gratitude to Congresswoman Matsui for her legislation that will create more access to behavioral health care for millions of Americans,” said Dennis Cuevas-Romero, Senior Vice President of Government Affairs, with California Health+ Advocates. “This legislation will allow patients to overcome critical barriers to care such as lack of transportation particularly for patients living in rural areas. This legislation will help advance our health care delivery system, providing Black, Indigenous, and People of Color access to care and prioritizing their behavioral health needs. We look forward to working with Congresswoman Matsui and other Congressional leaders on this important piece of legislation that will propel our national's behavioral health needs forward.”
“Telemental health care expands access to and improves healthcare quality for millions of Americans,” said Thomas E. Andrews, CEO of Community Action Agency of Columbiana County, Ohio. “The legislation introduced by Rep. Doris Matsui and Rep. Bill Johnson is essential in reducing the challenges patients encounter. Such as transportation issues in rural communities or the ability of low-income individuals to take a significant amount of time away from their place of employment. We fully support the Telemental Healthcare Access Act of 2023 to exclude the requirements Medicare places on patients to be seen in person.”
The Fiscal Year 2023 Consolidated Appropriations Act included provisions based upon the Telemental Health Care Access Act, which delayed the in-person requirement for telemental services through 2024. The lawmakers, through this legislation, seek to remove the in-person requirement permanently.
Congresswoman Matsui has long led efforts to harness the power of technology to improve our health care system, including expanding access to telehealth services. The Congresswoman’s Telemental Health Expansion Act, legislation to permanently remove Medicare’s originating site requirements for mental health services furnished via telehealth, passed the full House of Representatives, and the policy was included in the Consolidated Appropriations Act, 2021. In 2018, Congresswoman Matsui introduced the Access to Telehealth Services for Opioid Use Disorders Act to expand behavioral health treatment via telehealth, policy that ultimately became law under the SUPPORT for Patients and Communities Act.
Full text of the bill is available HERE.