House and Senate Committees Hold Hearings on Access to Mental Health and Telehealth

April 30, 2021

HR Policy and the American Health Policy Institute joined employer groups in submitting comments ahead of the House Ways and Means Committee and Senate HELP Committee hearings on telehealth and mental health and substance use.  HR Policy outlined the pressing need to continue policies implemented during the public health emergency which increase access to telehealth and behavioral health services. 

COVID-19 exposed existing health care disparities:  Workers’ mental health has suffered during the COVID-19 pandemic and access to consistent care is a challenge for those with behavioral and physical health concerns.  Modernizing existing telehealth laws can not only improve access for those with mental health and substance use disorders but also those who struggle with access to any health care provider. 

Our recommendations for improving telehealth include:

  • Treating telehealth services as an excepted benefit.  This would enable employers to offer this type of coverage to part-time and variable workforces, and other employees not enrolled in the employers’ medical plan.
  • Reforming licensure requirements to enable services to be offered across state lines.
  • Establishing a national set of standards for telemedicine services to address state-based requirements that have not kept pace with technology, practice site and remote working advances, including eliminating originating site and prior provider relationship requirements.
  • Clarifying that the CARES Act telemedicine provisions are effective for plan years on or after January 1, 2019 (employer plan years vary between non-calendar and calendar year basis).

Our recommendations to improve access to mental health and substance use care include:

  • Expanding telebehavioral health services using the recommendations above. 
  • Increasing federal funding to encourage behavioral health providers to practice in Professional Shortage Areas.
  • Requiring health care providers and facilities to notify the group health plan or issuer whether they are accepting new patients. 
  • Integrating behavioral health and primary care through a collaborative care model and increase the use of measurement-based care among providers.
These letters are in addition to separate comments the American Health Policy Institute sent last week to the House Education and Labor subcommittee hearing on access to behavioral and mental health care.