Researchers emphasize importance of telehealth investment and insurance coverage protections
RESEARCH TRIANGLE PARK, N.C. — A paper by researchers at George Mason University, RTI International, Sheppard Pratt Health System and Harvard Medical School published Tuesday outlines policy options to mitigate the behavioral health consequences of rising unemployment resulting from the COVID-19 pandemic.
The paper makes the case that accelerating access to and investment in suicide prevention and telehealth services, implementing insurance coverage protections, and supporting state government and providers with federal dollars are important steps to reducing harmful behavioral health outcomes that can accompany an economic downturn.
“Past research shows us that suicide and substance use increase as unemployment rises,” said Tami Mark, PhD, Senior Director of Behavioral Health Financing at RTI International. “Ensuring access to treatment needs to be a priority at federal, state and local levels so we successfully mitigate the effects of current and future economic challenges.”
The researchers note that the recent removal of regulatory barriers to telehealth, including increasing the types of care that can be provided and temporary Medicare reimbursement for care provided via telehealth, should be extended to accommodate pent-up demand.
They also write that some of the continued broadband investments should be specifically targeted to behavioral health care.
Insurance coverage protections for people who lose employer-sponsored coverage will be critical to ensure people have access to mental health and substance use disorder treatment, according to the paper. While the Affordable Care Act has increased access to care, people who live in the 14 states that have yet to expand Medicaid may have a harder time accessing behavioral health treatment, the researchers note.
The paper includes recommendations that the federal government has already taken steps to address.
To view the full paper, which was published in Psychiatric Services, click here.