March 19, 2021

Representative Lee, Senators Stabenow and Barrasso Introduce Bill to Increase Seniors’ Access to Behavioral Health Services

WASHINGTON, D.C. — U.S. Representative Barbara Lee (D-CA-13) and U.S. Senators Debbie Stabenow (D-MI), John Barrasso (R-WY) today reintroduced their bill to increase seniors’ access to behavioral health services. The Improving Access to Mental Health Act of 2021 would ensure clinical social workers can provide their full range of services to Medicare beneficiaries and increase the Medicare program’s reimbursement rate for clinical social workers, aligning it with that of other non-physician providers.

“As a former psychiatric social worker, I know the critical high-quality mental health services and care social workers provide in our communities,” said Congresswoman Barbara Lee. “Especially during a pandemic impacting the mental health of many, it is critical that we ensure Medicare beneficiaries have access to the essential mental health services provided by clinical social workers on a daily basis. I’m proud to join fellow social worker Senator Debbie Stabenow in reintroducing this critical bill and working to expand mental health services for all.”

“Increased stress and isolation during the COVID-19 crisis has resulted in an urgent need for behavioral health services, especially among our seniors,” said Senator Stabenow. “Seniors should be able to receive care from the provider of their choice, and this bill ensures that clinical social workers are among those providers.”

“As a doctor, I know how vital it is for seniors to have access to mental health services,” said Senator Barrasso. “In particular, for those living in rural communities, finding a mental health provider is challenging. This is why I am proud to support bipartisan solutions that help more patients get the care they need.” 

 The Improving Access to Mental Health Act of 2021 would increase the Medicare payment reimbursement rate for clinical social workers from 75 percent to 85 percent of the physician fee schedule. This would align Medicare payments for clinical social workers with that of other non-physician providers such as nurse practitioners and physician assistants. This new payment structure would incentivize trained and licensed professionals to care for more seniors in their communities. The bill also ensures clinical social workers can provide psychosocial services to patients in nursing homes, and the full range of Health and Behavior Assessment and Intervention (HBAI) services within their scope of practice.

The Improving Access to Mental Health Act of 2021 is supported by Aging Life Care Association, American Academy of Social Work and Social Welfare, Clinical Social Work Association, Congressional Research Institute for Social Work and Policy, Council on Social Work Education, Gerontological Society of America, National Association of County Behavioral Health and Developmental Disability Directors, National Association of Social Workers, National Association for Rural Mental Health, the International OCD Foundation, and the Jewish Federations of North America.

“There is great need and a demand for mental health and behavioral health services due to the COVID-19 pandemic, especially among individuals of color and underserved communities who are disproportionately impacted,” said Angelo McClain, PhD, LICSW, NASW Chief Executive Officer. “This legislation ensures a sufficient number of clinical social workers will be there to provide much-needed support and services to Medicare beneficiaries.”

For years, Senator Stabenow has been a champion for increasing access to behavioral health and addiction services. She created a new permanent funding system through the creation of Certified Community Behavioral Health Clinics, which provide a comprehensive set of high-quality behavioral health services. Her bipartisan Excellence in Mental Health and Addiction Treatment Act secured the most significant expansion of community mental health and addiction services in decades.