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Stephanie Pellitt

, National Council for Behavioral Health

House Subcommittee Approves 56 Opioid Bills

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On Wednesday, the House Energy and Commerce Health Subcommittee approved 56 of the 63 opioid bills pending before the Committee in a largely bipartisan fashion. The wide-ranging package of opioid bills includes many National Council priorities such as expanding access to substance abuse treatment through telemedicine, building up the addiction treatment workforce and encouraging quality standards for recovery housing. This week’s Subcommittee vote keeps the full Committee on track to advance legislation to the House floor no later than Memorial Day.

Among the bills approved during Wednesday’s hearing:

  • Telemedicine: The package includes two bills developed as the result of National Council advocacy efforts to remove barriers to MAT and prescribing of controlled substances—such as buprenorphine and some psychiatric medications—via telemedicine. The Improving Access to Remote Behavioral Health Treatment Act of 2018 (H.R. 5594), would expand access to care for patients in rural communities by allowing certain community behavioral health providers and Certified Community Behavioral Health Clinics to provide patients with access to these medications via telemedicine. Another bill (H.R. 5483) would require the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) to establish a special registration process for telemedicine providers to register with DEA to enable their patients to receive prescriptions for these medications via telemedicine. If enacted, the DEA would have one year to establish this process.
  • Residential Addiction Treatment: A House discussion draft, similar to the Senate’s Medicaid CARE Act (S. 1169), would amend the Institutes of Mental Disease (IMD) rule to allow Medicaid to pay for patient stays of up to 90 days in an IMD for residential addiction treatment. Patients would need to be assessed after the first 30 days to determine if continued care (up to 60 more days) is medically necessary. The National Council has long supported and advanced this change.
  • Recovery Housing: The Ensuring Access to Quality Sober Living Act (H.R.4684) would have the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) disseminate recovery housing best practices, based on the National Alliance for Recovery Residence’s quality standards, to the states and provide them with technical assistance to implement the standards. The bill aligns closely with the recommendations of the National Council’s state policy guide for supporting recovery housing.
  • Addiction Treatment Workforce: The Substance Use Disorder Workforce Loan Repayment Act (H.R.5102) would create a student loan forgiveness program dedicated specifically to addiction treatment professionals, which would attract more professionals to the field and increase timely access to treatment. This legislation was introduced as a result of education and advocacy by the National Council and the Association for Behavioral Health in Massachusetts.

Other measures approved during the hearing would incentivize Medicare beneficiary education and pain assessment, incentivize the development of non-opioid alternatives, allow hospice workers to dispose of unused opioid medications in patient’s homes, foster prescriber education for clinical outliers, and more. Notably, seven of the 63 bills were not voted on, many of them addressing Medicaid-related issues.

A Committee press release highlighting all the bills that advanced during Wednesday’s hearing can be found here.