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Rebecca Farley

Director, Policy & Advocacy, National Council for Behavioral Health

Senate Committee Urges CMS to Preserve Mental Health Drug Access

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Senator Max Baucus, Chair of the Senate Finance Committee

In a rare display of unanimity, the 24 members of the Senate Finance Committee have sent a joint letter to the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services urging the agency to roll back a proposal that would drastically limit consumers’ access to mental health drugs.

The letter strongly urges CMS to preserve the Medicare Six Protected Classes policy “as it exists today.” This policy allows Part D enrollees to access all or substantially all medications within six classes: antidepressants, antipsychotics, anticonvulsants, immunosuppressants, antineoplastics, and antiretrovirals. The policy was developed by the Bush Administration – and later codified by Congress – as a means to ensure that vulnerable individuals with severe and disabling conditions could access the full range of medications they need.

CMS has proposed to revoke protected status for antidepressants and immunosuppressants (with antipsychotics set to lose their protected status at a future date). Opposing this change, the members of the Senate Finance Committee  wrote, “We are very concerned this change will lead to decreased access to medication, especially for those beneficiaries afflicted by mental health problems. These vulnerable individuals rely on multiple medications to control and treat their illnesses. Unfortunately, over the course of treatment, certain medications may cause undesired side effects or become ineffective. As a result, certain beneficiaries must have a wide range of treatment options available. By limiting the number and type of medications offered under a Part D plan, a beneficiary may be forced to rely, if only temporarily, on medication that simply does not work or results in adverse side effects.”

The National Council strongly supports preserving the Six Protected Classes policy and applauded the bipartisan letter. We thank Senator Baucus, Senator Hatch, and all the members of the Senate Finance Committee for taking the lead in opposing CMS’ proposed change.