Two U.S. senators hope the legislation they introduced Tuesday will increase access to telehealth services to those seeking treatment for substance use disorder.
Sens. Rob Portman (R-OH) and Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI) announced their bipartisan legislation “Telehealth Response for E-prescribing Addiction Therapy Services (TREATS) Act would expand telehealth services for substance use disorder (SUD) treatment. Building on the Trump Administration’s waiving of regulatory restrictions for accessing care during the COVID-19 pandemic, the bill would make those waivers permanent and allow patients to use telehealth for virtual counseling.
The current waivers expire whenever the public health emergency is declared over.
The TREATS Act would also allow health care providers to prescribe Medication-Assisted therapies (MAT and other drugs via virtual visits and to bill Medicare for audio-only telehealth services.
“The COVID-19 pandemic has affected every aspect of our lives, and the increase in overdoses we’re seeing only increases the need for additional flexibility to help those suffering from addiction. I’ve had the opportunity to hear about the successes of telehealth in treating substance use disorder directly from behavioral health providers who have continued their fight against the addiction epidemic amidst the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic,” said Portman. “The roll out of telehealth waivers has both helped patients maintain access to care safely at home and increased access to care for those that didn’t otherwise have access to in-person treatment. As we move forward and look to life beyond this pandemic, we must make sure that the advances to care and access that telehealth is currently providing is not lost, and that’s exactly what this bill will do.”
The senators said it would not only increase overall access to MAT but also support telehealth in rural communities where broadband internet access may not be as easily accessible.
Access to SUD treatment is needed to stem the rise in drug overdose deaths across the country, the lawmakers said.
“Overdoses have taken a heartbreaking toll in Rhode Island since the coronavirus pandemic began. Telehealth sessions have been a lifeline for those walking the long road to recovery during a stressful, isolating time,” said Whitehouse. “Our bipartisan legislation would ensure that recovery support continues to be widely available from the comfort of home after the pandemic wanes.”
The legislation is supported by the American Society for Addiction Medicine, American College of Medical Toxicology, Kennedy Forum, National Association of Addiction Treatment Providers, National Association of Behavioral Health, National Safety Council, Shatterproof, and Well Being Trust.