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Jenni Muns

Policy Associate, National Council for Behavioral Health

Bipartisan Legislation Opens Medicare Billing to Additional Behavioral Health Providers

June 18, 2015 | Medicare | Comments
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A newly introduced bill in the House would allow Medicare to cover services provided by marriage and family therapists and licensed mental health counselors. By allowing previously ineligible providers to directly bill Medicare, H.R. 2759 would increase patients’ access to behavioral health providers, specifically in underserved, rural areas.

The bipartisan legislation, introduced by Representatives Christopher Gibson (R-NY) and Mike Thompson (D-CA), is the latest version of similar bills that have won support in previous sessions of Congress but have never been enacted into law. The National Council strongly supports this legislation and is working with a coalition of national mental health groups to build congressional support for this important initiative.

Marriage and family therapists and mental health counselors comprise a substantial number of licensed mental health practitioners, and they have similar licensure qualifications to other types of health professionals already permitted to provide services under Medicare. With about 80 million Americans living in a mental health shortage area, this legislation has the potential to dramatically expand patients’ access to care by expanding the mental health workforce that can provide services under Medicare.

Nearly one in five Medicare beneficiaries – including seniors and people with disabilities – are living with a mental health or substance use condition. Older Americans (those 65 and older) have higher rates of mental illness and suicide than any other demographic and have the highest rates of mental health related hospitalizations. Yet they are the least likely to receive mental health services, with only one in five receiving needed therapy.