WASHINGTON — A bipartisan group of senators working on mental health policy have proposed axing a requirement that would have restricted seniors’ access to services via telehealth, they announced Thursday.
Congress made access to mental health services through telehealth for seniors permanent in 2020, but there was a catch — seniors had to have visited the same provider in-person within the previous six months. That requirement hasn’t technically gone into effect yet because emergency regulations are still in place due to the pandemic, but if it were implemented, it could dramatically limit seniors’ options for mental health services.
Relaxing the in-person visit requirements would be good news for some virtual-only telehealth companies that have gained a foothold during the pandemic. Those companies have been lobbying for more permissive rules for telehealth coverage even after the emergency phase of the pandemic is over.
Senators charged with evaluating telehealth policy revealed a draft of their plans Thursday, which also includes preserving some audio-only mental health coverage in Medicare, requiring insurance plans to post public information about beneficiaries’ rights to access telehealth, and giving states more flexibility to use Children’s Health Insurance Program funding for school-based mental health services.
Senate Finance Chair Ron Wyden (D-Ore.), ranking member Mike Crapo (R-Idaho), and Sens. Ben Cardin (D-Md.) and John Thune (RN.D.) headed up the effort.
The proposal would also require reports on telehealth usage, which has been a point of contention as lawmakers have debated the guardrails around telehealth use.
The telehealth policy is the product of one of several working groups on the Senate Finance Committee. Other groups are focused on strengthening the mental health workforce, increasing care coordination, and ensuring parity in mental health coverage policies. The House of Representatives has also held hearings on mental health policy this Congress.