Senate’s First Crack at Mental Health Reform Zeroes in on Telehealth

New draft legislation would remove Medicare’s in-person requirements for mental health telehealth visits.

The Senate Finance Committee released draft legislation that for the first time encapsulates the work of the committee on mental health initiatives. Released May 26, the draft seeks to establish and expand the use of telehealth to treat the behavioral health of people who receive health insurance from the public health plans Medicare and Medicaid.

The draft legislation is titled the Telemental Health Access to Care Act.


Medicare, the federal health plan for seniors, meaningfully influences the actions of public health plans, according to several experts previously interviewed by Behavioral Health Business.

Under the draft legislation, Medicare would change how it approaches mental health furnished through telehealth by removing the in-person requirement for mental health provided via telehealth; making benefits transparent on when and where telehealth is accessible; and preserving audio-only mental health services, according to the release.

Medicare and Medicaid would be directed to promote and support providers’ use of telehealth while state CHIP programs, the Medicare equivalent for children, would be incentivized to establish local telehealth solutions for mental health services in schools.


A bipartisan group of committee leaders said in a press release that telehealth was a game changer for mental health access during the pandemic and that the draft legislation was a first step in shoring up and expanding telehealth for mental health treatment.

“Telehealth, particularly for behavioral health services, has become an essential component of care, and I am pleased that we have this opportunity to improve access to telemental health care, particularly for underserved communities,” Sen. Ben Cardin (D-Md.) said in the release.

Other telehealth and mental health efforts by the committee and the White House

The Senate Finance Committee is among the leading entities in Congress addressing behavioral health issues and has hosted several hearings on various aspects of what is impacting Americans’ mental health which has worsened during the pandemic — especially for children and young adults.

In February, Senate Finance Committee Chair Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) announced that bipartisan pairs of committee members would lead work groups on five focus areas — the behavioral health workforce; care integration, coordination, and access; mental health parity; telehealth; and improving care for children and young people.

In March, those working groups produced their first report.

Some of the topics broached by the committee so far include the role that schools may play in addressing the mental health of children in the future and strong language about the insurance industry largely flouting mental health reimbursement parity laws.

Pres. Joe Biden’s State of the Union in March laid out a vision for addressing the ailing American mental health care system. The well-received focus on mental health is part of a four-point “unity agenda,” as monikered by Biden.
More recently, the Biden National Drug Control Strategy highlighted the potential of telehealth to increase access to addiction care and other supports.

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