A new bill before Congress aims to create an annual $10 million grant program to help providers extend telemental health programs into rural areas focused on the farming, forestry and fishing industries.
– Lawmakers are looking to extend telehealth into rural parts of America to improve access for people in need of mental health services.
A group of Senators last week introduced the Home-Based Telemental Health Care Act of 2020 (S.3917), which would create a grant program to help providers to extend their connected health platforms into rural areas focused on the farming, fishing and forestry industries.
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“Now, especially as our nation continues dealing with a pandemic, we need to help rural America overcome the unique obstacles that small towns and rural communities face in providing mental health,” Senator Tina Smith (D-MN), who sponsored the bill with Senator Mike Rounds (R-SD), said in a press release. “Our bipartisan bill will help health providers in rural areas expand telemental health care services for farmers, ranchers and foresters, and many others in local communities who are experiencing stress and burnout caused by the pandemic, difficult weather, low commodity prices and more. It’s important that they get the services they need during this uncertain time.”
According to the Senators, the bill would create a $10 million loan program, to be renewed each fiscal year through 2025. The Health and Human Services Secretary, through the Health Resources and Services Administration’s Office of the Advancement of Telehealth and the rural health liaison at the Department of Agriculture, would administer the grants.
While lawmakers have cited the stress caused by the current COVID-19 crisis, the farming, forestry and fishing industries have been hard hit by behavioral health issues long before the pandemic – and care providers have sought to use telemedicine and mHealth to help them.
The bill is one of several introduced recently that aims to expand telehealth services and coverage at least through the coronavirus pandemic, if not indefinitely. Advocates are hoping that some might get swept up into the next coronavirus relief bill.
Joining Smith and Rounds as co-sponsors of the bill are Senators Kevin Cramer ((R-ND), John Boozman (R-AR), Susan Collins (R-ME), Ed Markey (D-MA), Cindy Hyde-Smith (R-MS) and Michael Bennet (D-CO).