- Even as new legislation to tackle the nation’s opioid abuse epidemic snakes its way through Capitol Hill, members of Congress are introducing new bills designed to make telehealth and telemedicine a pivotal tool for Medicaid-based programs.
The latest bill was filed last week by U.S. Rep. Tom Reed (R-N.Y.). The Mental Health Telemedicine Expansion Act (H.R. 6781) takes aim at well-documented barriers to the use of – and reimbursement for – connected care services in mental health programs, many of which are being brought to bear on people with substance abuse issues.
The bill proposes to amend the Social Security Act to increase access to mental health services through mHealth and telehealth technology. It would do so by including the patient’s home among locations that can be reimbursed for telemental health services and eliminating originating site facility fees.
“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,” the bill’s co-sponsor, U.S. Rep. Suzan DelBene (D-Wash.), said in a press release issued by Reed. “This bill is an important step in the right direction for those in need.”
The bill is similar to a wave of bills introduced in Congress this year targeting substance abuse and addiction issues, many of which have been swept up into the massive SUPPORT for Patients and Communities Act (H.R. 6), versions of which were passed by the House earlier this year and the Senate this week. That bill contains all or parts of close to 70 other bills.
It is not known if Reed’s bill or the Medicaid Substance Use Disorder Treatment via Telehealth Act, introduced this week by U.S. Rep. Ben Ray Luján (D-N.M.), will be included in ongoing negotiations to combine the two bills into one.
Medicare and Medicaid limit coverage for telemedicine programs to parts of the country experiencing provider shortages or designated rural areas, and they typically limit qualifying originating sites to healthcare locations. Reed’s bill is one of several seeking to expand the sites that can receive telehealth services to include locations such as the home, community health clinics, schools and jails.