Congressional action can help improve mental health care
Representative Tim Walberg. guest writer
The impacts of COVID-19 have spread far across our country and deep into our communities. Americans are keenly aware of the economic consequences of the pandemic, including the millions of people who have lost their jobs and their livelihoods. In the process of reconstruction, we cannot ignore the dire mental health toll caused by a disaster that has now lasted for 18 months.
Too often, treatment for recent and long-standing mental health and substance abuse disorders has been delayed or unavailable during the worst of COVID-19. Now the emergency room is overwhelmed with patients with acute mental health crises. Unfortunately, that includes a 31 percent increase in mental health-related hospital visits by those aged 12 to 17.
Now more than ever, Congress must come together again to tackle mental health care. We’ve been working across the aisle for five years on our last major initiative, the Supporting Families in Mental Health Crisis Act, 2016. It is the most significant mental health overhaul in decades. Today, we must capitalize on its success, and quickly.
Despite these bipartisan efforts, an estimated 122 million people, or more than a third of the U.S. population, still live in areas with few or no mental health professionals. This includes 58 of the 83 counties in my home state of Michigan. The situation is particularly grim for rural Americans, 60% of whom suffer from a lack of local mental health resources.
The truth is, we know how to connect patients to the care they need, when they need it. Telehealth, for example, allows providers, currently concentrated in our cities, to serve patients anywhere. Unfortunately, state licensing of psychiatrists, psychologists, and other practitioners prohibits most providers from offering telehealth services across state borders.
Given the severity of the current shortages, Congress should step in immediately to establish automatic licensing reciprocity for mental and behavioral health care providers and pair it with a federal guarantee that patients can use telehealth throughout life. their treatment journey, including when establishing a relationship with a supplier and obtaining prescriptions. We have facilitated reciprocity of sports medicine licenses in the past and can leverage the experience to accelerate the progress of cross-border mental health care today.
While policymakers have a long way to go, the private sector is offering innovative and thoughtful solutions, as a new report from the ERISA Industry Committee (ERIC) shows, which outlines a plan to tackle the current healthcare crisis. mental and behavioral health.
It starts with solutions to allow better access to care and updates to obsolete rules that get in the way.
For example, IRS rules severely limit account-based health insurance coverage used by more than half of the US workforce and their dependents. Until the pandemic struck, employers were prohibited from paying or subsidizing high-value services, such as telehealth, for employees on those plans who had not yet reached their deductible. The government has in fact demanded that families bear the full cost, which in itself deters patients from seeking mental health treatment. Congress wisely removed this restriction as part of a COVID-19 relief bill last spring, but the change will expire in December unless we make it permanent.
More LSJ Reviews
IRS rules also prohibit job creators from offering free health care at worksite health centers. Other rules add insult to injury, prohibiting employers from providing health benefits to workers unless the worker subscribes to a full benefit – effectively denying care to part-time workers, apprentices, trainees and others.
Many employers are already on the right track, but ultimately the path to better mental health and well-being for all Americans will require further action from Congress.
Let us put our differences aside, invite all stakeholder groups to the table and work in good faith and as quickly as possible to improve mental and behavioral health care in this country at a most critical time.
U.S. Representative Tim Walberg, R-Tipton, represents Michigan’s 7th District and is a member of the Energy and Commerce Committee and the Education and Labor Committee.