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A Proposal to Preserve Tele-Mental Health Care

May 27, 2022

U.S. Senators this week offered a first look at how telehealth could support mental health care after the pandemic ends.

During March 2020, the federal government expanded the use of telehealth to cover a wider range of services for Medicare patients and included access to audio-only care. The flexibilities helped preserve safe care for patients amid the spread of COVID-19.

In a 33-page discussion draft released this week, the U.S. Senate Finance Committee outlined the COVID-19 flexibilities that could remain in place to support mental health services after the public health emergency expires. Telehealth is one of the committee’s five key areas of focus to address shortfalls in mental health care. The other priorities are workforce, care integration, mental health parity, and youth.

Among the key policy considerations in the committee’s draft discussion:

  • Removing Medicare’s in-person visit requirement for tele-mental health services.
  • Preserving access to audio-only mental health coverage in Medicare when necessary and appropriate.
  • A focus on benefit transparency for mental health care services delivered via telehealth to inform Americans with Medicare about eligible services. This includes public service campaigns.
  • Directing Medicare and Medicaid to promote and support provider use of telehealth.
  • Incentivizing states to use their CHIP programs to establish local solutions to serve behavioral health needs in schools, including through telehealth.

The lawmakers also ask HHS to draft a report on the utilization of mental health services via telehealth and other topics.

The telehealth discussion draft is part of the committee’s mental health care initiative. The lawmakers are expected to release additional discussion drafts to support this initiative in the months ahead.

HAP continues to advocate for policies and legislation that improve access to telehealth to ensure all Pennsylvanians have access to health care when and where they need it. Learn more about HAP’s telehealth advocacy.

The discussion draft is available to review online.