Rep. Vern Buchanan (R-FL) introduced a bill April 17 that takes a multi-pronged approach to combatting the opioid epidemic and includes language that would allow mental health counselors and marriage and family therapists to participate in the Medicare program.
The bipartisan bill, H.R. 5531, titled the Opioid Emergency Response Act, combines Rep. Buchanan’s proposal to evaluate alternatives to opioid use in emergency rooms with several previously introduced bills that address the epidemic. These includes measures that would provide additional grant money for states, institute steps to prevent opioids from entering the U.S. through the Postal Service, and provide additional funding for the National Institutes of Health to study the science behind pain and addiction and seek new treatments.
Section 6 of the bill would expand senior citizens’ access to counseling for opioid addiction, substance abuse, and other mental health issues by allowing licensed professional counselors and marriage and family therapists to fully participate in the Medicare program. The language that would provide this Medicare access incorporates the text of a bill previously introduced by Rep. John Katko (R-NY), titled the Mental Health Access Improvement Act. This portion of the measure would allow counselors to be reimbursed by Medicare as they are now reimbursed under the Medicaid program and would enable seniors to receive treatment for addiction and other mental health issues at Medicare rates.
“We have seniors that don't have the capability to get additional dollars in funding because Medicare doesn't give them the dollars they need to battle through some of this," Rep. Buchanan said before the bill was introduced.
Other sections of the bill would provide for a study of the link among veterans, opioids, and suicide and would improve the ability of law enforcement officials to control synthetic opioid compounds with varying chemical compositions.
Buchanan represents Florida’s 16th District, a region that includes the Bradenton-Sarasota area. He is a member of the House Ways and Means Committee, which has jurisdiction over tax policy, international trade, health care, welfare, Social Security, and Medicare. Buchanan, the chairman of the Tax Policy Subcommittee, played a key role in passing the sweeping tax reform bill last winter.
What You Can Do to Help
You can learn more about H.R. 5531 here If you would like to contact your representative in the House about supporting H.R. 5531, you can find contact information by entering your ZIP Code on this page at the bottom. Be sure to include the bill number in your correspondence.