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Shelley Starkey

National Council Represents Members’ COVID-19 Concerns on the Federal Level

March 26, 2020 | COVID-19 | Comments
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In response to the COVID-19 global pandemic, the National Council has listened to our members and amplified their voices on the federal level with Congress and leadership in the Trump administration. We have joined with coalitions of other national advocacy groups to pass on recommendations to the federal government, we have mobilized our grassroots advocates to reach out to their Members of Congress, and we have begun compiling countless resources on everything from caring for your personal mental health to guides for continuing to run your businesses through this ever-changing legislative landscape. Don’t hesitate to reach out with your needs or concerns, and read more to learn about our efforts to date.

The National Council, in partnership with our members and other national advocacy organizations, is pleased that the following recommendations have been included in the Senate’s most recent COVID-19 response legislative package, which is expected to pass the House on Friday and quickly be signed into law:

  • Direct Relief for States: Along with 220 other organizations, the National Council signed onto a letter addressed to Congressional leadership, urging $150 billion in direct aid to states for fiscal relief as they deploy their resources to address critical health needs and absorb the related economic crisis.
  • Increase Access to Small Business Loans: Earlier in deliberations around the third response package, language was included that would exclude nonprofits that receive Medicaid reimbursements from accessing the Paycheck Protection small business loan program. This would have excluded many mental health and addiction treatment providers from receiving these critical funds. This language was removed in the final version of the bill.
  • Add Funds to Support Mental Health and Addiction Care: The third COVID-19 response package includes billions of dollars in federal investments of which behavioral health providers and clinics are eligible recipients. Read our coverage of the package for more specifics on funding levels.

The National Council, in partnership with our members and other national advocacy organizations, continues work on the following proposals and recommendations, which have not yet been addressed as of this writing. Note that this is a not an exhaustive list. If you have other needs, recommendations or concerns, please reach out to National Council and share them.

  • Allow Audio-Only Telehealth Services in Medicare: In a letter addressed to Congressional Leadership, the Mental Health Liaison Group (MHLG), of which the National Council is a member, recommended increasing access to telehealth services by expanding certain flexibilities under Medicare to support audio-only telephone services. Although this has not yet been addressed, provisions recommended in the letter, including increasing access to small business loans and adding funds to support mental health and addiction care, were included in the final package as outlined above.
  • Lift Restrictions on Telebehavioral Health: Although much progress has been made on the federal and state levels to ensure public insurance programs like Medicaid allow better coverage for behavioral health services provided via telehealth, no federal mandate has yet required all insurers, including private health coverage providers, to pay for these services. The National Council joined the MHLG in sending letters to every state’s Governor and State Insurance Commissioner, as well as Congressional Leadership and the National Association of Insurance Commissioners, to make these changes.
  • Ensure Access to Medications and Medical Supplies: The National Council has joined 211 other organizations in sending a letter to Congressional leadership urging various provisions that would increase patient access to their needed medications and medical supplies. The recommendations include measures such as requiring all payers to waive prior authorization and other utilization management requirements as well as requiring payers to provide emergency supplies of at least 30 days’ worth of medications. The third COVID-19 response package did include a measure requiring Medicare Part D to provide a 90-day supply of prescription medication for enrollees, but more still needs to be done for individuals not enrolled in Medicare.
  • Give Protections to LifeLine Consumers: The National Council has joined 249 other organizations in signing a letter addressed to leadership at the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) recommending the following protections through the duration of the COVID-19 pandemic for individuals who receive government supported cell phone service via the LifeLine program:
    • Prohibit disconnections of LifeLine consumers
    • Require Lifeline providers to offer unlimited voice minutes and unlimited texting and commensurate voice-only financial support
    • Create emergency Lifeline broadband benefit
  • Relax “incident to” billing restrictions: The National Council is urging CMS to lift restrictions that prevent certain professionals, such as marriage and family therapists or licensed professional counselors, from billing Medicare unless they are physically located in the same place as a supervising physician. As clinics move to greater use of telehealth, it will become increasingly difficult to meet this requirement, resulting in loss of access to services.

Continue checking in on the National Council’s COVID-19 Resource Directories as the content is updated daily, and stay tuned to Capitol Connector each week for the latest news on policy responses to this pandemic.