U.S. Senator Tina Smith Leads Senate Push to Improve Gaps in Telehealth Coverage for Mental and Physical Health

WASHINGTON, D.C. [05/15/20]—Today, U.S. Senator Tina Smith (D-Minn.) led her Senate colleagues in introducing the Health Care at Home Act, which would provide telehealth parity for mental and physical health services. She was joined in the effort by Sens. Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.), Ben Cardin (D-Md.), Bob Casey (D-Pa.), Mark Udall (D-N.M.), Jeanne Shaheen (D-N.H.), Kamala Harris (D-Calif.), Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.) and Ed Markey (D-Mass.).

The coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic has led to a significant increase in telehealth services for both physical and behavioral health. In Minnesota, health systems have witnessed an over 1,000-fold increase in the use of telehealth. But gaps in access to telehealth remain. Sens. Smith and her colleagues want to fix this gap and ensure Minnesotans and Americans can access the health care they need.

“I sit in the seat Senator Paul Wellstone once held, and I take his legacy of advocating for mental health parity really seriously. Now—especially now—we need to make sure that even though we’re still encouraging physical distancing, that doesn’t mean isolation without any help,” said Sen. Smith, a member of the Senate Health Committee. “Gaps in telehealth coverage are preventing people from accessing the mental and physical health services they need, and we need to fix this gap and include our bill in the next coronavirus relief package.”

“The Health Care at Home Act will expand our patients’ access to telehealth services at a critical time,” said Paul H. Earley, MD, DFASAM, president of the American Society of Addiction Medicine.”  The COVID-19 pandemic has exacerbated existing behavioral health concerns, putting Americans with addiction at heightened risk of relapse and overdose. Now more than ever, our patients need access to medications and social supports, and telehealth can be an essential tool for delivering safe and high-quality care. We applaud Senator Smith’s leadership and urge the Senate to pass this critical piece of legislation.”

This legislation is endorsed by: National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI), NAMI Minnesota, The National Council for Behavioral Health, the American Society of Addiction Medicine (ASAM), American Psychiatric Association (APA), The Emily Program, WithAll, Eating Disorders Coalition for Research and Policy & Action, and American College of Surgeons.

The Health Care at Home Act would fix the gap in telehealth coverage by:

  • Ensuring all medically necessary benefits in ERISA plans are covered via telehealth for the duration of the COVID-19 Public Health Emergency;
  • Establishing parity between telehealth and face to face visits, including audio visits;
  • Prohibiting restrictions on which particular conditions can be managed remotely; and
  • Ensure all cost sharing for COVID-19 related treatment can be waived.

You can access a summary of the bill here