DelBene Introduces Legislation to Address Mental Health Provider Shortage
Congresswoman Suzan DelBene (WA-01) introduced the Mental Health Telemedicine Expansion Act (H.R. 6781), legislation that would increase access to mental health services through telemedicine for Medicare beneficiaries.
Currently, Medicare limits access to telemedicine to certain geographic regions with provider shortages. However, even patients who can use telemedicine are not permitted to do so from their home. Right now, Medicare requires the patient to be in a qualified “originating site” such as a doctor’s office. This bill will allow all Medicare beneficiaries to access mental health services through telemedicine in their own home, regardless of where they live. In Washington state, there are 158 areas with a shortage of mental health professionals, but many patients still face challenges accessing care even when they don’t live in health professional shortage areas. More than 3.6 million people each year miss or delay care due to lack of transportation to their physician. Telemedicine allows those patients to take off less time from work and spend less time sitting in traffic.
“I met recently with doctors and mental health experts about my proposed legislation, and we all agree that this is a commonsense measure that will streamline access to care while closing the coverage gap,” said Rep. DelBene. She added, “Everyone – regardless of where they live – should have access to telemedicine services from the comfort of their home so they can be treated for mental health conditions ranging from anxiety and depression to addiction and suicidal thoughts. This bill is an important step in the right direction for those in need.”
“Just as we see a primary care doctor every year, it is important we have a “check-up” on the mind as well,” Rep. Tom Reed said. “We care about the mental health needs of people and want to ensure they have fair accesses to the care they need in areas where doctors are scarce through the most updated technology available."
"Access to care--for all health concerns--is an utmost priority for Washingtonians," says Washington State Medical Association president, Donna Smith, MD. "The WSMA strongly supports this legislation, which will bring Medicare policy in line with current Washington state policy for Medicaid and private insurers and allow more patients to receive telemedicine for mental health while at home. Patients should be able to receive care where and when they need it, and telemedicine helps make that possible."
"NAMI Washington supports the Mental Health Telemedicine Expansion Act, expanding telehealth for mental health care," Brad Forbes, NAMI Washington's Director of Public Policy & Advocacy said. "This bill eliminates barriers, and it is critical to allow people to see their doctor from their home instead of driving long distances.”
Suicide is currently the 10th leading cause of death in the U.S. According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness, only 41 percent of adults in the U.S. with a mental health condition received health services in the past year.
Rep. DelBene serves on the House Ways and Means Committee and is Co-Chair of the New Democrat Coalition.