Public policy corner: Summer 2021

Originally published in the Summer 2021 edition of the OCD Newsletter.

Greetings!

During the first half of 2021, as Congress entered a new session, legislators and staff were busy preparing new legislation for consideration and reintroducing bills that failed to pass in the previous session. Here at the IOCDF, we have been watching this process unfold and signing on to support new bills or renewing our support for those that were reintroduced. We have now settled on a core agenda of bi-partisan bills that we will be advocating for over the next 18 months, and we are excited to share our agenda with you!

Removing barriers to treatment

S.168 — TREAT Act (Temporary Reciprocity to Ensure Access to Treatment Act)

Sponsor: Sen. Chris Murphy (D-CT) / Original Co-sponsor: Sen. Roy Blunt (R-MO)

The TREAT Act would enable therapists to temporarily practice across state lines for the duration of the pandemic-related public health emergency, and for a time afterward, without having to obtain additional licenses in every state where their patients live. We believe that if it is passed, the TREAT Act will become a model for long-term reform of professional licensing in the United States, and will enable more people in underserved communities, including remote rural areas, to access mental health providers, including those offering specialist OCD treatment.

Supporting and growing the mental health workforce

H.R.432/S.828 — Mental Health Access Improvement Act of 2021

Sponsors: Rep. Mike Thompson (D-CA) / Sen. John Barrasso (R-WY)
Original Co-sponsors: Rep. John Katko (R-NY) / Sen. Debbie Stabenow (D-MI)

The Mental Health Access Improvement Act would expand Medicare’s mental health coverage to include services provided by licensed mental health counselors (LMHCs), licensed professional counselors (LPCs), and licensed marriage and family therapists (LMFTs). The IOCDF trains clinicians with these licenses to provide OCD treatment through our Behavior Therapy Training Institute, and these clinicians make up an important and growing part of the workforce who can provide specialized treatment for OCD.

Mental Health Professionals Workforce Shortage Loan Repayment Act of 2021 (will be refiled, bill number pending as of May 2021)
Sponsors: Rep. John Katko (R-NY) and Rep. Grace Napolitano (D-CA)

This bill would support new mental health professionals by providing them with student loan repayment support if they choose to practice in underserved areas or to work at health care facilities with acute shortages of mental health clinicians. Offering this incentive to new clinicians is an essential step toward ending the shortage of mental health professionals in many areas of the United States.

Expanding and enforcing parity laws

H.R.1364 — The Parity Enforcement Act of 2021
Sponsor: Rep. Donald Norcross (D-NJ)

Original Co-sponsors: Rep. Joe Courtney (D-CT), Rep. Brian Fitzpatrick (R-PA), and Rep Ann Kuster (D-NH)

U.S. law requires insurers to treat mental health benefits the same as benefits for physical health, but too many people are still forced to jump through added hoops or are denied coverage entirely for mental health care when they would not face the same barriers to getting help for a physical health condition. If passed, the Parity Enforcement Act of 2021 would expand the U.S. Department of Labor’s power to enforce parity laws when insurers violate them.  Currently, only employers can be held accountable for many violations, but this bill would give the Department of Labor the power to investigate insurance companies and hold them accountable for parity violations.

S.660 — Tele-Mental Health Improvement Act

Sponsor: Sen. Tina Smith (D-MN)
Original Co-sponsor: Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-AK)

This bill would expand U.S. parity laws to include teletherapy. Essentially, insurers would be barred from treating teletherapy benefits differently or applying different policies to teletherapy that make it harder to access than traditional in-person therapy. Given the increased utilization of teletherapy during the pandemic, and growing expectations that teletherapy will continue to be a mainstream treatment option in the long term, this update of parity rules is essential to protect treatment access.

Stay tuned for upcoming advocacy opportunities where we will be organizing members of the OCD and related disorders community to contact their senators and representatives about these important bills! Be sure to sign up for public policy updates at iocdf.org/public-policy if you are interested.

Other recent public policy program activities:

We joined with other national patient advocacy organizations to call for the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) to roll back changes to Medicare Part D. The proposed changes would have threatened access to “protected class” medications, including most of the medications prescribed to treat OCD and related disorders.We endorsed the Black Maternal Health Momnibus bill, which supports improved healthcare quality and outcomes for women who are pregnant or new mothers. This package of bills includes the Moms Matter Act, which would direct federal funding resources to programming across the country serving the perinatal mental health needs of women in racial and ethnic minority groups.The IOCDF provided official support for an article written by top scientists and clinicians arguing for fair and equitable insurance coverage of deep brain stimulation (DBS) for OCD. DBS is frequently covered by insurers as a treatment for dystonia, which is a movement disorder and considered a physical health condition. However, insurers regularly deny coverage for DBS as a therapy for treatment-resistant OCD, despite evidence supporting its use and an FDA approval under the humanitarian device exemption (the same approval given for dystonia treatment with DBS). In addition to first author Rachel Davis, MD of the University of Colorado, other authors of the article include IOCDF Scientific and Clinical Advisory Board Members Eric Storch, PhD, Darin Dougherty, MD, Wayne Goodman, MD, and Steve Rasmussen, MD. For those of you who are interested in using your own story for policy advocacy, we added a helpful video from Vinay Krishnan on how best to do so — visit iocdf.org/public-policy to learn more!

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