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March 18, 2021

Barrasso, Stabenow Introduce Bipartisan Mental Health Access Improvement Act

Bill will expand access to mental health services for our nation’s seniors.

WASHINGTON, DC –Today, U.S. Senators John Barrasso (R-WY) and Debbie Stabenow (D-MI) reintroduced the Mental Health Access Improvement Act (S. 828). The bill would allow America’s seniors access to marriage and family therapists (MFTs) and licensed mental health counselors (LMHCs) through Medicare. By providing these mental health professionals the opportunity to participate in the Medicare program, this bill expands the number of mental health providers available to our nation’s seniors.

“Improving access to mental health services is vitally important,” said Barrasso. “Our bipartisan Mental Health Access Improvement Act will expand the number of mental health professionals able to care for our nation’s seniors. This is critical for Wyoming and the rest of rural America, which often face the greatest shortage of mental health providers.”

“So many older Americans are in urgent need of behavioral health services as a result of isolation and stress from the COVID-19 crisis,” said Stabenow. “Our bill gives seniors a greater choice of mental health providers so they can get the mental health care they need.”

The Wyoming Association of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Centers endorsed the bill.

“Rural states like Wyoming are facing a major mental health crisis, made worse by our lack of providers, especially in the rural and frontier areas of the state,” said Wyoming Association of Mental Health & Substance Abuse Centers Executive Director Andi Summerville. “The change to allow LPCs and LMFTs to provide services under Medicare is critical to addressing this shortage. It will immediately open access to more than 1,000 providers statewide who are able to provide critical mental health services to some of our most vulnerable populations including seniors and the disabled.”

In the United States alone, 20 percent of individuals ages 55 and older experience some type of mental health concern. According to the Health Resources and Services Administration, there are more than 5,000 Mental Health Professionals Shortage Areas in the United States, and half of all counties in the U.S. have no practicing psychiatrists or psychologists. Seniors in rural communities are the most adversely affected by these shortage areas.

The Mental Health Access Improvement Act lifts restrictions on certain mental health professionals that bar them from billing Medicare. This will increase access to existing mental health professionals and allow them to treat America’s seniors.