U.S. Senators Tina Smith, Cassidy, Cardin, Thune Reintroduce Bill to Remove Barriers to Telemental Health Care

WASHINGTON, D.C. – U.S. Senator Tina Smith (D-MN) joined her colleagues Senators Bill Cassidy, M.D. (R-LA),  John Thune (R-SD) and Ben Cardin (D-MD) to reintroduce the bipartisan Telemental Health Care Access Act to remove barriers to telemental health services for Medicare beneficiaries. Specifically, the bill removes the requirement that Medicare beneficiaries be seen in person within six months of being treated for mental health services through telehealth. In 2020, Congress permanently expanded access for Medicare patients to be treated virtually for mental health services. Unfortunately, it also included an arbitrary requirement that would require the patient to be seen in-person before they could receive telemental services. The Telemental Health Care Access Act eliminates this in-person requirement so that patients can directly access mental health services via telehealth.

“Telehealth has proved to be an important lifeline and tool to close some of the most significant gaps in patients’ access to health care services,” said Senator Smith. “Especially for Minnesotans in small towns and rural places suffering from mental health challenges, long commutes to the nearest provider can mean virtual care is the only feasible option. This bill is an important step in making it easier for mental health patients on Medicare to ask for help and get the care they need, without having to jump through administrative hoops.”

“Since the pandemic, we have seen how telehealth expanded health care access for those with substance use disorders, physical ailments, and mental health conditions. It has been an important lifeline for rural communities,” said Dr. Cassidy. “This bill removes barriers to allow Medicare patients to receive the telemental health services they deserve.”

“We fought to expand telehealth access during the pandemic and the results demonstrated how critical a tool it is for countless Americans, especially for mental health services,” said Senator Cardin. “Earlier this Congress, I held a hearing in the Senate Finance Health Care Subcommittee where experts detailed the value of telehealth services being covered by Medicare. The experts agreed with the goals of this legislation and reiterated the importance of providing telehealth permanency to continue treating those who would otherwise struggle to get the care they need. Our legislation also provides another opportunity to address the issue of access to care and health disparities. I am proud to join Senators Cassidy, Smith, and Thune in introducing this bill to provide flexibilities and increase access to mental health care for Medicare beneficiaries.” 

“South Dakotans have long understood the value of telehealth,” said Senator Thune. “I’m proud to support this common-sense legislation that would strengthen telehealth and expand access to mental health services for Medicare beneficiaries, especially for those in the most rural areas in South Dakota.”

Senator Smith has long been a champion of increasing access to telehealth services. She introduced the Home-Based Telemental Health Care Act of 2023 to increase mental health and substance use services in rural and underserved areas. She is also an original cosponsor of the Expanded Telehealth Access Act to make pandemic-driven expanded access to certain telehealth services under Medicare permanent.