Senate bill aims to narrow mental health workforce shortage by expanding GME slots

New Senate legislation seeks to add 400 new psychiatrists a year in a bid to address a crippling shortage of mental health workers. 

The discussion draft (PDF), released Thursday by the Senate Finance Committee, is part of a larger effort by the panel to reform mental health. The legislation would also boost bonus payments for mental health providers that offer care to underserved communities. 

“There is an enormous need all across the country for mental and behavioral healthcare, but there aren’t nearly enough providers to meet that demand,” said Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Oregon, chairman of the panel, in a statement. “These proposals are about training new providers and finding opportunities to do more with the mental health workforce we already have.”

Starting in Oct. 1, 2024, the legislation would fund training for 400 additional Medicare graduate medical education slots for psychiatry residences each year. Over the next 10 years, the legislation would offer 4,000 additional psychiatric residencies, according to a fact sheet on the legislation.

The legislation would expand bonuses to psychiatrists that practice in health professional shortage areas. It would also allow for psychologists, clinical social workers, marriage and family therapists, mental health counselors as well as other nonphysician practitioners to get bonuses for working in a shortage area. 

Clinical social workers would be allowed, for the first time, to bill Medicare for health behavior assessment and intervention services, which reimburse psychologists for managing physical health factors including weight.

The discussion draft is part of a broader package being considered by the finance committee. Senators have already released discussion drafts on improving youth mental health and increasing telehealth access. 

Wyden has previously said that another key goal of the effort is to increase parity between behavioral and physical health. Even though pay parity is a requirement under the Affordable Care Act, Wyden has said there are growing complaints that parity remains a thorny issue for consumers.