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Senate panel seeks to expand telehealth for Medicare mental health services

Source by:  Healthcare Finance

Written by:  Jeff Lagasse, Editor

The draft suggests removing Medicare’s in-person visit requirement, protecting audio-only telehealth and supporting provider use.

The Senate Finance Committee, led by Chair Ron Wyden (D.Ore.), is seeking to make permanent some of the telehealth flexibilities enacted during the COVID-19 pandemic that pertain to mental health services.

In what the committee calls a mental health “bill of rights,” Wyden and ranking committee member Mike Crapo (R-Idaho), along with Senator John Thune (R-S.D.) and Senator Ben Cardin (D-Md.), released a discussion draft for telehealth policies that suggests, among other things, removing Medicare’s in-person visit requirement and codifying audio-only mental health coverage.

Wyden said via statement that the policies outlined in the draft “will help strengthen access, awareness and support for telehealth.”

Aside from nixing Medicare’s in-person visit requirement, the committee’s proposed policies include establishing benefit transparency for mental health services delivered via telehealth, to inform Americans with Medicare how and when they can access such services.

The committee also recommended directing Medicare and Medicaid to promote and support provider use of telehealth; and incentivizing states to use their CHIP programs to establish local solutions to serve behavioral health needs in schools, including through telehealth.

The telehealth discussion draft is the first legislative draft released by the committee since it began its larger mental healthcare initiative. Other discussion drafts may be released prior to a committee markup.

The committee said it’s committed to fully paying for any mental health package with bipartisan, consensus-driven offsets. Earlier this year, the committee announced five areas of focus for addressing shortfalls in mental healthcare: workforce, care integration, mental health parity, telehealth and youth.

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