Legislators reintroduce bill aimed at easing barriers to virtual mental health care in Medicare

A bill reintroduced Tuesday in the House of Representatives aims to address barriers to accessing virtual behavioral and mental health care for Medicare beneficiaries.

The bill, co-sponsored by Reps. Doris Matsui, D-California, and Bill Johnson, R-Ohio, would eliminate a requirement that doctors see Medicare beneficiaries in person within six months of a virtual visit for mental and behavioral health concerns, according to an announcement.

Major provider groups such as the American Medical Association and the American Psychiatric Association (APA) support the bill, as do telehealth companies like Talkspace and Teladoc Health, according to the release.

What's next for telehealth has been a key topic of conversation as the public health emergency for COVID-19 unwinds. The health emergency enabled multiple new flexibilities for virtual care as people were urged to stay home and avoid visiting providers in person when possible.

Matsui said in the announcement that making it easier for people to access telehealth is critical as the country has grown beyond a "foundation" for these services and now "we have a nation relying" on them.

“The pandemic forced the nation to capitalize on the benefits of virtual care, and its positive impact was crystal clear for telemental health care,” said Matsui. “The option of telehealth makes it easier for patients to pick up the phone, follow through on their appointments, and seek care sooner."

"That’s why we need to continue to remove arbitrary barriers like the in-person requirement that restrict access to telemental health services," she added.

Arthur Evans Jr., Ph.D., the CEO of APA, said in the announcement that 96% of psychological practitioners who use telehealth intend to continue to do so. The bill is critical to enabling that, he said.

“Telehealth continues to demonstrate its value in expanding access to behavioral health services in rural and other underserved areas,” he said.