On Sept. 22, Senate Finance Committee Chair Ron Wyden (D-Ore.), Ranking Member Mike Crapo (R-Idaho), Sen. Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.), and Sen. Steve Daines (R-Mont.) released discussion draft legislation designed to strengthen the mental and behavioral health workforce and expand access to care. Among the proposals, the legislation would provide 400 new Medicare-supported graduate medical education (GME) slots for psychiatry and psychiatry subspecialties.
In a statement following the release of the discussion draft, AAMC Acting Chief Public Policy Officer Tannaz Rasouli said, “We support the discussion draft released today for helping to improve patient access to much-needed mental and behavioral health providers by investing in new Medicare-supported graduate medical education (GME) positions. We applaud the working group for taking this step to address this critical need for patients.”
“In addition to the deficit of psychiatrists, shortages of other physicians and health professionals pose challenges for patients seeking mental and behavioral health services. These shortages are the reason we strongly support legislation such as the Opioid Workforce Act (S. 1438), the Substance Use Disorder Workforce Act (H.R. 3441), and the Resident Physician Shortage Reduction Act (S. 834/H.R. 2256), which would provide support to help expand accredited residency programs in needed areas,” Rasouli added.
The release of the mental and behavioral health workforce discussion draft is part of a year-long, bipartisan effort that first began in September 2021, when committee leadership issued a request for information from invested parties seeking recommendations to improve access to mental health care [refer to Washington Highlights, Sept. 24, 2021]. The AAMC responded to the request with a series of recommendations to expand and extend the behavioral health workforce, promote the integration of physical and behavioral health care, and expand access to care [refer to Washington Highlights, Nov. 19, 2021].
After receiving feedback from stakeholders, committee leadership announced the creation of five bipartisan working groups, each tasked with formulating legislative recommendations to address specific barriers to mental health care. The Strengthening the Workforce working group, co-chaired by Sens. Stabenow and Daines, developed this discussion draft legislative text that would invest in training and education for behavioral health providers, promote physician mental health and well-being, and expand access to behavioral health care for Medicaid beneficiaries.
In addition to the GME policy, the discussion draft proposed to expand access to behavioral health care for Medicaid beneficiaries by establishing a demonstration model whereby states can receive additional federal Medicaid funding to improve behavioral health provider network adequacy. The legislation would also combat provider burnout by including a new exception to the Physician Self-Referral Law (commonly called the Stark Law) that would allow hospitals to provide mental health and suicide prevention programs to physicians.