Today, the Committee on Ways and Means unanimously voted to pass H.R.432, the Mental Health Access Improvement Act, legislation from Rep. Mike Thompson (D-CA) and Rep. John Katko (R-NY) expanding access to mental health services for seniors on Medicare.
The legislation, which Thompson and Katko have sponsored for several consecutive Congresses, authorizes Medicare coverage of mental health services provided by licensed marriage and family therapists (MFTs) and mental health counselors (MHCs). These providers are presently not covered by Medicare, despite possessing equal academic and training qualifications as other groups currently available to seniors on Medicare, and the legislation is meant to substantially increase the number of mental health providers available to Medicare beneficiaries.
“Today, the Committee on Ways and Means took several important steps to address the ongoing mental health crisis we face,” said Thompson. “I am particularly proud that the Committee voted unanimously to pass my legislation providing Medicare coverage of marriage & family therapists and mental health counselors, and am grateful to my colleagues for their support. This legislation dramatically increases the size of the mental health provider pool eligible for Medicare reimbursement, and in doing so helps ensure that seniors on Medicare – many of whom live in rural or underserved areas – can access the mental health care they need.”
Studies show that senior citizens face a wide range of mental health challenges. According to the World Health Organization, more than one in five adults over the age of 60 suffer from at least one mental or neurological disorder, including anxiety, cognitive impairment, depression, and other mood disorders, such as bipolar disorder. The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) have noted a particularly high suicide rate amongst the elderly; one study found that men aged 85 years or older have a suicide rate over four times higher than the overall population.
Many of these mental health challenges can be effectively diagnosed and treated if appropriate care is available, sought, and accessed. Unfortunately, a combination of factors – including a growing Medicare population and ongoing workforce shortages – often prevent seniors from even seeking needed mental health care in the first place. Left untreated, mental health disorders lead to worse health outcomes, lower quality of life, and higher medical costs.
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