Key Senators in Behavioral Health Reform Effort Call For DEA to Continue Virtual MAT Flexibility

A bipartisan duo of U.S. Senators is putting pressure on the Biden administration to make the COVID-era regulations that have freed up the use of virtual medication-assisted treatment permanent.

Sens. Rob Portman (R-Ohio) and Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.) called on the top executives of the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) and Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) to lock in the regulatory flexibility through the rulemaking process while Congress works through a behavioral health legislative package.

In the letter, dated April 1, the lawmakers state that coupling medication-assisted treatment with telehealth has expanded access to the treatment, which is considered a key tool to fighting addiction, especially opioid use disorder.


“We have heard from countless substance use providers in our home states who describe this waiver as a ‘game-changer’ in expanding access to treatment for individuals with substance use disorder and combating the current surge of drug overdoses,” the letter states.

Both Portman and Whitehouse are members of the Senate Finance Committee. The committee has taken a lead role in working on a to-come package of behavioral health legislation that’s expected to debut in early summer. Medication-assisted treatment has featured prominently in hearings about how the Senate is approaching the effort.

Most recently, Senate Finance Committee Chairman Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) set a foreboding tone on another key focus of the Senate effort to address issues in behavioral health: Wyden said that “time has run out” for health plans that don’t faithfully comply with reimbursement parity rules.


There is an indication that the DEA is receptive to making rules that make a waiver it issued giving flexibility to prescribing controlled substances via telehealth in March 2020 permanent. 

On March 23, DEA Administrator Anne Milgram said in a statement that her agency was committed to expanding access to medication-assisted treatment for substance use disorder (SUD).

“In this moment, when the United States is suffering tens of thousands of opioid-related overdose deaths every year, the DEA’s top priority is doing everything in our power to save lives,” Milgram said. “At DEA, our goal is simple: we want medication-assisted treatment to be readily and safely available to anyone in the country who needs it.”

The senators’ letter asks for an update on the DEA’s plans for a potential rule by April 15.

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