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Senate Bill Aims to Remove In-Person Requirement for Mental Health Services

Analysis  |  By Scott Mace  
   June 21, 2021

American Telemedicine Association applauds the introduction of the Telemental Health Care Access Act.

A bipartisan Senate bill that would eliminate a federal requirement for mental health services to be delivered in person was introduced last week and was immediately welcomed by telehealth advocates.

The Telemental Health Care Access Act of 2021 was introduced by Senators Bill Cassidy (R-LA), Tina Smith (D-MN), Ben Cardin (D-MD), and John Thune (R-SD). The proposed law would repeal the in-person requirement for telemental services signed into law as part of the end-of-year Congressional reconciliation package last December.

"Our highest praise and gratitude to Senators Cassidy, Smith, Cardin and Thune for their steady leadership and clear priority to bring telehealth services to the American people, including those in rural and underserved communities," said Ann Mond Johnson, CEO of the American Telemedicine Association (ATA). "The Telemental Health Care Access Act is a critical piece of legislation that would repeal the telemental health in-person requirement. Passing this legislation, and ensuring this unnecessary requirement is not repeated for other services, along with other pieces of legislation that make the telehealth waivers permanent, could not be a higher priority for the ATA and our members."

In a statement, ATA noted that no clinical evidence exists to support an in-person requirement before patients can access telehealth services. ATA officials say evidence demonstrates that telemental health services such as telepsychology are as effective as in-person visits.

The ATA stated that it had also published a new brief on in-person requirements for telehealth, describing the obstacles to care created by what it termed "this arbitrary law that are contrary to clinical consensus, exacerbate provider shortages, worsens health inequities, and unnecessarily preempt state laws."

"The ATA strongly opposes statutory in-person requirements as they create arbitrary and clinically unsupported barriers to accessing affordable, quality health care," Mond Johnson said. "Requirements such as these could negatively impact those in underserved communities who may not be able to have an in-person exam. We simply cannot ignore the importance of providing all Americans, regardless of whether they have an established relationship with a medical provider, the opportunity to access life-saving health care."

"Telehealth has been essential for maintaining and expanding access to healthcare services during the COVID-19 pandemic," said Senator Cardin in a statement. "This is especially true for those seeking mental health counseling and medical management, as we have seen spikes in anxiety, depression, substance abuse, domestic violence and suicide resulting from social isolation. This legislation provides additional flexibility to increase access for Medicare beneficiaries needing mental health services."


Scott Mace is a contributing writer for HealthLeaders.

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