Tuesday, June 30, 2020

Geller Testifies on Mental Health Needs During Pandemic and Beyond

During a virtual U.S. House subcommittee hearing today, APA President Jeffrey Geller, M.D., M.P.H., urged Congress to take action to curb the mental health impact of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“We expect that, even after the infectious aspect of this pandemic is over, we’re going to have a mental health pandemic that could go on for quite some time,” Geller told the U.S. House Committee on Energy & Commerce’s Subcommittee on Health.

The hearing, titled “High Anxiety and Stress: Legislation to Improve Mental Health During Crisis,” addressed 22 pieces of legislation related to mental health care pending before Congress. Geller expressed APA’s support for legislation that would achieve the following:

  • Require the Department of Health and Human Services to collect, analyze, and make publicly available data on race and ethnicity related to COVID-19 testing, hospitalization, and mortality as well as the mental health effects of the pandemic.
  • Enforce the parity law, which requires insurers to cover mental health at the same levels as physical health.
  • Continue expanded telehealth rules beyond the COVID-19 emergency.
  • Strengthen congressional efforts to prevent suicide.
  • Ensure that patients who present in the Emergency Department with suicidal ideation or who have attempted suicide are screened and referred to appropriate mental health treatment.
  • Boost resources for call centers, 24/7 mobile crisis units, and crisis stabilization programs.

Geller especially expressed APA’s support for the Telemental Health Expansion Act of 2019 (HR 5201), introduced by Reps. Doris Matsui (D-Calif.) and Bill Johnson (R-Ohio). The legislation would permanently exempt tele-mental health services from Medicare’s geographic restrictions, such as requiring patients to travel to a qualifying “originating site” for appointments.

He also highlighted the Mental Health Parity Compliance Act (HR 3165), sponsored by Reps. Katie Porter (D-Calif.), Gus Bilirakis (R-Fla.), and Rep. Donald Norcross (D-N.J.). This legislation would ensure that health insurance plans comply with the Mental Health Parity and Addiction Treatment Act of 2008.

During the question-and-answer portion of the hearing, Geller stressed that he believes a campaign is urgently needed to reduce prejudice and discrimination toward people with mental illness and called on Congress to help such an effort.

The only bill addressed during the hearing that APA opposed was the Medicare Mental Health Access Act (HR 884), introduced by Rep. Judy Chu (D-Calif.), which would define psychologists as physicians under Medicare. In his written testimony, Geller noted that the bill “would further fragment care by creating unnecessary and dangerous silos between all health care providers who should be working collaboratively.”

Geller testified along with former Rep. Patrick Kennedy, founder of the Kennedy Forum; Arthur C. Evans Jr., Ph.D., CEO of the American Psychological Association; and Arriana Gross, a member of the National Youth Advisory Board of the Sandy Hook Promise Students Against Violence Everywhere Promise Club.

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As chair of APA’s Nominating Committee, Immediate Past President Bruce Schwartz, M.D., is seeking to diversify the elected leadership of APA and invites all members to consider running for one of the open Board of Trustee offices in APA’s 2021 election: president-elect; secretary; early-career psychiatrist trustee-at-large; minority/underrepresented representative trustee; Area 1, 4, and 7 trustees; and resident-fellow member trustee-elect. You may nominate yourself or a colleague—the important point is that you get involved! The deadline is Tuesday, September 1.

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