Feb 3, 2022

Members of Congress Highlight Critical Role of Virtual Care in Addressing Behavioral Health Challenges 

This week, during U.S. Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor, & Pensions (HELP) and U.S. House Committee on Ways & Means hearings on mental health, legislators highlighted the critical role of telehealth in combating our nation’s mental health crisis and improving behavioral care outcomes.

During the hearings, members of Congress from both sides of the aisle emphasized telehealth’s benefits and highlighted the urgent need for action to protect telehealth access. 

Senator Patty Murray (D-WA), Chair, Senate HELP Committee: “The Confederated Tribes and Bands of the Yakama Nation are using grant funding from SAMHSA to fight the high rate of suicide in their community by updating their health records and mental health procedures, hiring more therapists, and expanding telehealth services which have been critical to reach people during this pandemic. If we are going to respond to the behavioral health issues this pandemic has made worse it is clear we have to build on these efforts. That will take legislative action.” 

Congressman Kevin Brady (R-TX), Ranking Member, House Ways & Means Committee: “The committee can and should work together to make telehealth access permanent, this is the silver lining of the COVID pandemic. In the first year of the pandemic the nation’s weekly average of telehealth users jumped from 13,000 to 1.7 million. We need to make these telehealth access permanent. We’ve seen it work and save countless lives of seniors and those facing dire mental health challenges. It’s time to make this solution a permanent one.” 

Congressman Lloyd Doggett (D-TX): “Another policy that I think is important, and the Ranking Member just mentioned it, is telemedicine. At one Lonestar Circle of Care Community Health Center here in Austin, 48 percent of telehealth visits in the past month were for behavioral health services. Just an example – an older patient caring for an adult disabled son is able to get telehealth visits for her own depression and caregiver fatigue that you might otherwise have to forego. The Telehealth Expansion Act, which I recently introduced with strong bipartisan support from leaders in this committee, is one thing that can be done to help us avoid a telehealth cliff when the public health emergency ends.” 

Congressman Adrian Smith (R-NE): “As has been mentioned, telehealth is important to all communities. I was working on telehealth before COVID when it was for the purposes of rural care and access – and now telehealth is needed across our entire globe.”

Congressman Mike Thompson (D-CA): “A long-standing priority of mine has been telemedicine and I’m proud that the expansion of telehealth in Medicare during COVID-19 was an inclusion of legislation that I had drafted. We’ve seen an explosion in the use. Everybody I talked to said it’s fantastic.”

Congressman Kevin Hern (R-OK): “It’s clear that mental health is a growing issue and I want to talk today about the technology that has opened a new frontier into mental health support. In 2018, Congress passed the SUPPORT Act paving the way for seniors to access virtual health consults for mental health issues. Telehealth, or as I call it virtual health, has become even more popular during COVID-19 pandemic with more than 52 million seniors utilizing telehealth, a 63 percent increase because of current regulatory flexibilities available under the pandemic… It is time for us to begin the tough work to make virtual health flexibilities permanent. Our employers have made the virtual workspace a permanent fixture, we should be doing the same with our medical care.”

Congressman Earl Blumenauer (D-OR): “We all have been faced with amazing challenges at home that we’re hearing. It underscored the good work that we’ve already had helping people keep their heads above water. I think the work Chairman Mike Thompson has done dealing with telehealth and expanding that is an example of something that is making a difference – where we’re doing things that make sense expanding resources, and hopefully, it’s going to continue into the future.”

According to a recent study by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, virtual mental health care improves treatment engagement, care retention, and patient satisfaction, leading to improved long-term health outcomes. And while it can take an average of 48 days before a patient is seen for behavioral health services, many patients simply cannot wait that long. In contrast, telehealth services can be readily available in minutes

Read TAFA’s statement ahead of both hearings HERE.

Learn more about Telehealth Access for America (TAFA) and permanent solutions to protect access to telehealth HERE.