In a policy paper issued Tuesday, the Senate Republican Policy Committee said it supports Congress and the president’s expansion of telehealth as a way to deal with the increasing mental and behavioral health crisis facing the country as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.
The RPC said the pandemic, as well as the shutdowns it caused, have put an additional strain on America’s health care system. Economic uncertainty, job loss, and social isolation have contributed to increased rates of depression, anxiety, and other mental health issues.
But government expansion of telehealth has allowed patients to maintain their access to health care providers during the public health emergency, the paper said.
“Telehealth access was quickly expanded during the emergency and has shown an ability to serve patients in need of mental and behavioral health care,” the paper said.
According to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, calls to its crisis hotline increased 900 percent in March. And according to a June report from the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) and Prevention, an estimated 41 percent of all adults in the United States said they had at least one symptom of a mental health condition and that 11 percent had seriously considered suicide.
As a response, the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act, passed by Congress in late May and signed into law by President Trump, temporarily deregulated telehealth and allowed the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services to expand its reach, adding more types of providers and services, including mental health therapy to the list of approved care for Medicare beneficiaries.
Additionally, the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) issued a temporary rule that expanded the number of software services that could be used for telehealth to include platforms like Skype and FaceTime.
And on Aug. 3, the RPC said, President Trump issued an executive order to HHS to look into whether or not the changes made to telehealth should remain in place beyond the public health emergency.