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Expanding Mental Health Access

September 27, 2019

Identifying and treating mental illness is a pressing issue in our country. The National Alliance on Mental Illness estimates 1 in 5 U.S. adults experience mental illness each year, while 1 in 25 adults experience serious mental illness each year. As with most conditions, mental illness can afflict anyone.

We have come a long way as a nation in fighting the stigma of mental illness. Mental illness is no longer the taboo subject it once was, which helps people suffering to know they are not alone. However, we still need to do a better job fighting and treating mental illness itself.

Compounding this serious issue is a lack of access to treatment. Recently, the National Council for Behavioral Health released a study finding mental health services in our country insufficient and “the root of the problem is lack of access – or the ability to find care.” This is especially true in rural America, where access to health care in general can be very challenging.

To counter this trend, I have cosponsored two mental health bills, both in the jurisdiction of the Ways and Means Committee – H.R. 1301 and H.R. 884.  H.R. 1301, the Mental Health Telemedicine Expansion Act, would allow providers to be reimbursed by Medicare for tele-mental health services at the patient’s home. This would expand mental health services by allowing patients to stay in the comfort of their own home while receiving critical mental health services, instead of having to travel long distances to find a provider. I was pleased when the Ways and Means Committee passed a larger package which included this important legislation earlier this year.

The other mental health bill I cosponsored, H.R. 884, would allow psychologists to see Medicare beneficiaries independently without immediate physician oversight. In rural areas where we lack providers, we need flexibility to provide care. Psychologists are highly trained at their profession, and requiring a physician to be present is a burden on both psychologists and rural physicians who could be focused on serving more patients.

Too often those with mental health issues are either undiagnosed or do not have access to the care they need. Through our efforts on the Ways and Means Committee, we are working to change this trend. I am glad we are taking mental health seriously as a nation, and spreading awareness is a key aspect in improving mental health in our country.