APA President Jeffrey Geller, M.D., M.P.H. urges Congress to take action to curb the mental health impact of the COVID-19 pandemic.
APA President Jeffrey Geller, M.D., M.P.H., emphasized the ways telehealth has allowed Americans who might otherwise be cut off from mental health services during the pandemic to receive treatment.
During a virtual hearing of the U.S. House Committee on Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Health on June 30, APA President Jeffrey Geller, M.D., M.P.H., urged Congress to take action to curb the mental health impact of the COVID-19 pandemic.
“We expect that, even after the infectious aspect of this pandemic is over, we’re going to have a mental health pandemic that could go on for quite some time,” Geller told the subcommittee.
The hearing, titled “High Anxiety and Stress: Legislation to Improve Mental Health During Crisis,” addressed 22 pieces of legislation related to mental health care pending before Congress. Geller expressed APA’s support for legislation that would achieve the following:
Require the Department of Health and Human Services to collect, analyze, and make publicly available data on race and ethnicity related to COVID-19 testing, hospitalization, and mortality as well as the mental health effects of the pandemic.
Enforce the parity law, which requires insurers to cover mental health at the same levels as other medical care.
Continue expanded telehealth rules beyond the COVID-19 emergency.
Strengthen congressional efforts to prevent suicide.
Ensure that patients who present in the Emergency Department with suicidal ideation or who have attempted suicide are screened and referred to appropriate mental health treatment.
Boost resources for call centers, 24/7 mobile crisis units, and crisis stabilization programs.
Geller especially expressed APA’s support for the Telemental Health Expansion Act of 2019 (HR 5201), introduced by Reps. Doris Matsui (D-Calif.) and Bill Johnson (R-Ohio). The legislation would permanently exempt tele-mental health services from Medicare’s geographic restrictions, such as requiring patients to travel to a qualifying “originating site” for appointments.
“About 65% [of psychiatrists] had not previously used telehealth, and now 85% are using telehealth for about three-quarters of their patients,” Geller told the committee. “The combination of allowing for visual as well as telephone-only services is very important as you have many patients who have no idea how to use any electronic equipment whatsoever.”
Author: Katie O’Connor
Published online: July 29, 2020