MATSUI, JOHNSON INTRODUCE BILL TO ELIMINATE BARRIER TO TELEMENTAL HEALTH SERVICES

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Today, Congresswoman Doris Matsui (D-CA) and Congressman Bill Johnson (R-OH), both senior members of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, introduced 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 statutory requirement that Medicare beneficiaries be seen in-person within six months of being treated for mental and behavioral health services through telehealth. Eliminating this arbitrary requirement will ensure that patients can fully leverage telehealth to get the care they need from home.

“The widespread embrace of telehealth during the pandemic has been key to connecting patients to mental and behavioral health services and support,” said Congresswoman Matsui. “The end of the pandemic may be in sight, but the hard work is still ahead. We must recognize the value telehealth provides in expanding access to care and its potential to democratize our mental health system. That starts with putting policies in place that ensure we are meeting the needs of all Medicare beneficiaries, not just those who have the time, transportation, and caregiving support to see their provider in-person. To meet demand, build trust, and serve those still not getting mental health care they need, we must remove the in-person requirement that poses an arbitrary barrier to telemental health services.”

“Due to the COVID-19 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 where we live in Appalachia. As we emerge from the pandemic, we must eliminate any needless bureaucratic red tape preventing patients from accessing telemental health services. I have partnered with my colleague, Congresswoman Matsui, to introduce this common-sense bipartisan bill. I’m hopeful this legislation will be approved by the full House soon.”

“It is vital that our nation’s older adults who rely on Medicare coverage, many of whom have at least one chronic health condition, can receive at-home telehealth services for a mental health condition like depression as well as services to help cope with or address challenges of having a health condition like diabetes,” said Laurel Stine, Senior Vice President, Public Policy of the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention. “We applaud Representatives Doris Matsui and Bill Johnson for prioritizing the needs of this population and helping to save lives by extending access to essential telemental and behavioral health care without unnecessary barriers.”

“The expansion of telehealth coverage was a rare silver lining during the COVID-19 pandemic, as it made behavioral health care available to people and communities traditionally lacking access to these services,” said Arthur C. Evans, Jr., PhD, CEO of the American Psychological Association. “APA is concerned that this momentum will abruptly end once the public health emergency is lifted, creating an ‘access cliff’ for those communities that only recently gained coverage. APA wholeheartedly supports this legislation, which would lift arbitrary Medicare coverage restrictions for behavioral health care. We applaud Representative Matsui for her leadership on the issue and urge Congress to pass this bill quickly.”

“The COVID-19 pandemic has demonstrated the tremendous value of telehealth,” said Vivian Pender, M.D., President of the American Psychiatric Association. “The artificial six-month in-person requirement for patients to receive telehealth creates an unnecessary barrier for those who need mental health services urgently, and who aren’t immediately able to physically be in an office. While the nation is still dealing with the mental health impacts of COVID-19, including high rates of anxiety and depression, the Telemental Health Care Access Act will eliminate that long-term barrier and more people can get the treatment they need, similar to what is allowed for substance use disorder.”

“Today, another important piece of bipartisan legislation was introduced by longtime telehealth champions Rep. Doris Matsui and Rep. Bill Johnson, to enact critical revisions to telemental health policy by removing the Medicare in-person requirement, which creates a significant roadblock to much-needed mental health care, with one out of five adults suffering from a mental illness,” said Ann Mond Johnson, CEO of the American Telemedicine Association. “We urge Congress to put their full weight behind this new bill and other legislation that make telehealth a widely available and permanent care delivery option. The ATA extends our thanks to Representatives Matsui and Johnson for their unwavering support of telehealth to ensure that all citizens have access to safe, convenient and quality healthcare whenever and wherever they need it. We look forward to continued collaboration and progress towards our shared vision.”

“Thank you to Congresswoman Matsui for her authorship of legislation that will create access to behavioral health care for millions of Americans,” said Andie Martinez-Patterson, Senior Vice President of Government Affairs, with California Health+ Advocates. “This legislation is needed now more than ever. Since the beginning of the pandemic, providers have seen an increase in depression, fear, and anxiety. This legislation will help vault our health care delivery system forward, providing Black, Indigenous, people of color access to get their behavioral health needs met. 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, especially with the increased need for services in the pandemic's wake,” 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 2021 to exclude the requirements Medicare places on patients to be seen in person.”

“Telehealth provides better health outcomes because it provides better access,” said D.R. Gossett, CEO of Family Medical Centers in Lawrence County Ohio. “Sweeping restrictions will invariably cause critical needs to go unmet. This is especially true for those with severe conditions that are most likely to have trouble with transportation for more than one reason, including senior citizens. These are often the very cases that are likely to end up in catastrophic outcomes that could’ve easily been averted with simple care coordination and assessments. Once again I have to applaud Congressman Johnson’s efforts to be sure telehealth continues to be available to improve community health outcomes.”

Full text of the bill is available HERE.

Endorsing Organizations:

  • Alliance for Connected Care
  • American Foundation for Suicide Prevention (AFSP)
  • American Medical Association (AMA)
  • American Psychiatric Association (APA)
  • American Psychological Association (APA)
  • American Telemedicine Association (ATA)
  • Ascension
  • California Health+ Advocates
  • Centerstone
  • Central for Telehealth & e-Health Law (CTeL)
  • Doctor on Demand
  • eHealth Initiative and Foundation
  • Health Innovation Alliance (HIA)
  • National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI)
  • National Council for Mental Wellbeing
  • Talkspace
  • Teladoc Health
  • The Jewish Federations for North America (JFNA)

Congresswoman Matsui has been a longtime legislative champion of expanding access to telehealth services. Along with this bill, the Congresswoman also co-leads the Protecting Access to Post-COVID-19 Telehealth Act of 2021 and the CONNECT for Health Act, two bills that are aimed at helping permanently open up reimbursement for telehealth within the Medicare program.

Last year, 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. As the co-chair of the bipartisan Congressional High-Tech Caucus and as a member of the Telehealth Caucus, Congresswoman Matsui continually supports policies to expand the innovative use of technology across every sector of the economy.

# # #