Thanks to Maine Sens. Susan Collins and Angus King and Reps. Chellie Pingree and Jared Golden for acting quickly to ease restrictions on telemedicine so people with mental illness could retain access to care during this pandemic.
Research from the American Psychiatric Association shows that psychiatric patients are happy with telehealth and no-show rates have been significantly reduced as compared to in-person care. With outpatient telehealth, patients are more likely to take their medication and less likely to require costly inpatient care. As medical director for Sweetser, I have seen that firsthand. Research shows that timely access to treatment for their mental health issues results in them experiencing improvements in their physical health conditions as well.
I hope you will work with your colleagues to permanently exempt mental health telehealth services from geographic and site-of-service restrictions under Medicare. The most populated parts of Maine are not considered Mental Health Shortage Areas, despite that those with Medicare living in those counties can’t access in-person care due to lack of providers and chronic transportation problems. They are often wait-listed for up to six months. Telehealth dissolves those barriers, especially for our senior citizens.
Congressman Vern Buchanan has recently co-sponsored bipartisan legislation to permanently extend Medicare’s telehealth coverage beyond the pandemic. The Protecting Access to Post-Covid-19 Telehealth Act would expand telephone and online virtual visits with doctors by removing restrictions for Medicare patients. I strongly urge support of this legislation, which has been cosponsored by a bipartisan group in the House and Senate.