On March 29, the Senate Finance Committee released a report documenting deficits in the mental health care system, as well as recommendations to improve access to care. The report, which was jointly authored by majority and minority staff, synthesized responses to Chair Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) and Ranking Member Mike Crapo’s (R-Idaho) Sept. 2021 request for information (RFI) on developing policy proposals to address barriers to mental health care [refer to Washington Highlights, Sept. 24, 2021].
The AAMC responded to the RFI with a series of recommendations to enhance and extend the nation’s behavioral health workforce capacity, invest in integrated behavioral health models, enforce mental health parity, and promote the use of telehealth to expand access to behavioral health care [refer to Washington Highlights, Nov. 19, 2021].
In his introductory letter, Wyden reflected on testimony received from Surgeon General Vivek Murthy, MD, MBA, which underscored the average eleven-year gap between the onset of behavioral health symptoms and the receipt of treatment [refer to Washington Highlights, Feb. 11]. Wyden described the committee’s process for synthesizing the 300 RFI responses they received from stakeholders, including the establishment of five discrete working groups, each chaired by one Democratic and one Republican committee member. He noted that based on the findings of the report, the committee’s efforts to address mental health will likely focus on strengthening the behavioral health workforce, improving connections to care, and ensuring that all payers, including commercial health insurers, Medicare, Medicaid, and the Children’s Health Insurance Program, guarantees parity between physical and mental health care.
The report highlighted many of the recommendations outlined in the AAMC RFI response, including:
- Increased Medicare funding for graduate medical education.
- Investment in the Psychiatric Collaborative Care Model.
- Medicare reimbursement for peer support specialists.
- Enhanced enforcement of the 2008 Mental Health Parity and Addiction Equity Act.
- Elimination of the 2021 Consolidated Appropriation Act’s requirement of an in-person visit prior to the initiation of elemental services.
- Continued Medicare reimbursement for audio-only telehealth following the conclusion of the public health emergency.
Wyden noted that the recommendations contained in the report will be used to inform the development of future legislation. “This report marks the Finance Committee’s next step in the bipartisan effort to understand the behavioral health care crisis in the US and, further, to craft a legislative package, which the committee intends to consider this summer,” he concluded in his letter.