NAMI Asks Administration to Prioritize Mental Health During COVID–19 Crisis

Apr 27, 2020

Today, NAMI and leading mental health and addiction organizations and supporters called on the Administration to take two steps that would help people with mental illness and substance use disorders. In a letter to Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar, NAMI and others request that the Administration 1) prioritize emergency funding for local mental health and addiction providers and 2) expand Medicare coverage of behavioral health services through audio-only telehealth or telephone.

The first action would address the urgent risk of economic collapse of many local behavioral health providers. A recent survey of providers by the National Council for Behavioral Health showed that more than 60% of providers have already been forced to close one or more programs and 62% of providers cannot survive more than three months without emergency financial assistance. The letter urges the Administration to prioritize mental health and addiction treatment providers as it prepares to distribute the additional $75 billion in funding for the Public Health and Social Services Emergency Fund.

The second action would help address the need for services by people struggling at home. While NAMI applauds recently expanded access to telehealth, many people, particularly older and rural Americans, lack video-conferencing capability. According to recent reports from the Federal Communications Commission and others, between 21.3 million and 42 million Americans lack broadband access. The letter requests the Administration lift the current Medicare prohibition on audio-only telehealth for a range of mental health services by telephone and ensure they are reimbursed the same as an in-person visit.

Without these two important administrative actions, the short and long-term consequences will be devastating, particularly given the increasing toll the COVID-19 health emergency is having on our nation’s mental health.

NAMI hears stories every day about people with mental illness being left behind in the COVID-19 emergency. NAMI and these leading organizations agree that we must strengthen our mental health system in order to meet the demands of this crisis immediately.

Read the letter here.

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