At innovaTel, we take pride in our commitment and our ability to provide our partners with a high level of support. As valuable as our clinical liaisons are to the seamlessly integrated telepsychiatry partnerships we form with organizations providing care, so too is the timely expertise offered by our Chief Compliance Officer, Jordana Bernard.
Her experience navigating the ever-changing regulatory landscape is invaluable to us as an organization and to the organizations with which we partner, as new policies are introduced and — most importantly — new policies need to be unpacked and understood.
That expertise is timely now, as the Biden Administration unveils a new mental health strategy and as Congress takes action on legislative items that impact the work we do and the vital work being done in communities across the country. Here is a breakdown of two notable moves, taken at the federal level, in recent days.
The passage of the omnibus government funding legislation sounds, on the surface, as if it wouldn’t apply to the mental health community. But, it does. Within that legislative package is an extension for telehealth after the COVID-19 Public Health Emergency (PHE) expires.
Specifically, the legislation allows flexibilities to remain in place for five months after the official expiration of the PHE for the following:
- Originating site: Medicare beneficiaries will continue to be able to receive telehealth services from any geographic location, including from home.
- Federally Qualified Health Centers (FQHCs) & Rural Health Clinics (RHCs): FQHCs and RHCs can continue offering telehealth services post-PHE, including for mental health visits.
- In-person requirement for mental health services: Providers will not be required to see their patients in person prior to conducting a telemental health visit.
- Audio-only allowed: Medicare to cover audio-only services, when appropriate.
- Expanding eligible practitioners: Physical therapists, occupational therapists, special therapists and audiologists will continue to be allowed to provide telehealth services.
“I think the thought process behind the five-month extension is to ensure continued Medicare coverage of telehealth services at parity reimbursement through at least 2022,” Bernard said, noting that the PHE is expected to be extended in April through mid-July. “Five months after the PHE extends coverage through December, when there will be another opportunity to include another telehealth extension or permanent solution in an end-of-year legislative package.”
Bernard believes the legislation may be a positive indicator that Congress may ultimately repeal the six-month, 12-month in-person visit requirements.
In addition to the spending bill, the Biden Administration also released a $35 million grant package to support youth mental health services — a topic he touched on during the State of the Union address and included as part of the administration’s mental health strategy.
A total of six grant programs will be administered through the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration and the Office of Minority Health. The programs include:
- Project AWARE (Advancing Wellness and Resiliency in Education): $5.4 million for school-based mental health programs and services.
- Garrett Lee Smith Campus Suicide Prevention (GLS): $2.2 million for mental health resources for students at colleges and universities.
- GLS State/Tribal Youth Suicide Prevention and Early Intervention Program: $4.4 million to support efforts by states and tribes to implement youth suicide prevention and early intervention strategies.
- Statewide Family Network Program: $1.6 million to enhance the capacity of statewide mental health family-controlled organizations (i.e., organizations where families help other families improve their lives) to support families and caregivers who are raising children, youths and young adults with serious emotional disturbance.
- Expansion and Sustainability of the Comprehensive Community Mental Health Services for Children with Serious Emotional Disturbances (SED): $10.4 million to improve mental health outcomes for youth up to age 21, as well as their families
- The Community Programs for Outreach and Intervention with Youth and Young Adults at Clinical High Risk for Psychosis: $7.2 million to identify youth and young adults no older than 25 who are at clinical high risk for psychosis and provide evidence-based interventions in a trauma-informed manner to prevent the onset of these conditions.
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