This post was originally published in the Summer 2020 edition of the OCD Newsletter.
We like to think of the OCD and related disorders community as being ahead of the curve when it comes to dealing with the countless ways that COVID-19 has unsettled daily life. Forget the tired stereotypes about handwashing and germs. It is our practice and skill in tolerating — and even embracing — the uncertainty of the future that leaves many of us feeling well-equipped to face the weeks and months that are ahead.
When it comes to the IOCDF’s Policy Advocacy Program, we too are feeling slightly ahead of the curve right now. We’ve watched telehealth, a key pre-pandemic priority of ours, be embraced across the country as a means of delivering healthcare while maintaining social distance. We wish that it hadn’t taken this to move the needle on a critical health care access issue. But now that telehealth is being widely adopted, we’re focused on doing everything we can to improve access to telehealth where it is still lacking, and maintain gains in this policy area even after social distancing rules are relaxed.
What the IOCDF is advocating for:
- We urged CMS (the US federal government agency overseeing Medicare and Medicaid) to allow for behavioral health services to be delivered in audio-only phone calls. This change went into effect in late April.
- We joined with other mental health advocacy organizations to call on US governors to lift state restrictions on telehealth and require that payers reimburse telehealth providers at rates equal to those paid for in-person care, and we’ve asked Congress to make it easier for states to ease license restrictions that make it difficult or impossible for clinicians to provide telehealth services across state lines.
- We joined other organizations in asking Congress to include the following new requirements in coronavirus relief legislation:
- That telehealth benefits be included in all individual and group plans
- That insurers cover all types of outpatient telemental health care, including intensive outpatient and partial hospitalization
- That insurers cover out-of-network telehealth services if they typically cover other types of out-of-network care or if no in-network telehealth provider is available
- That insurers cannot force patients to switch providers simply to receive care via telehealth
- We are calling on Congress to include telehealth in the benefits provided by Tricare, the US government’s health insurance plan for military personnel, retirees, and their families.
We also understand that taking a healthcare system online doesn’t erase every barrier, inequity, and problem. As the nation responds to the increased behavioral health care needs that we believe will be brought on by the pandemic and its consequences, we are supporting efforts to improve affordability and access in federal coronavirus relief bills:
- Make health insurance for unemployed workers (COBRA) more affordable by subsidizing premiums for people who have been furloughed or laid off due to the pandemic
- Boost funding support for suicide prevention services and hotlines
- Increase the workforce available to meet demand for behavioral health services by allowing LMFTs and LMHCs to care for medicare beneficiaries
While there are still uncertain days ahead, we are grateful to see so many people and organizations speaking up for the changes that are necessary to meet the mental health needs of our community. We are especially grateful to those who have responded to our action alerts and have contacted their elected officials! Thank you!
If you would like to learn more about the Policy Advocacy Program, or sign up to receive more information, please visit iocdf.org/advocacy.