On May 19, 2022, the U.S Senate Special Committee on Aging held a hearing titled, “Mental Health Care for Older Adults: Raising Awareness, Addressing Stigma, and Providing Support.” During this hearing, Committee Chairman Bob Casey and Ranking Member Tim Scott highlighted the disparities among integrated mental health care in older Americans.
Nearly one in four older adults experience mental health conditions, and with greater social isolation and loneliness, exacerbated by COVID-19 as Chairman Casey pointed out, social isolation has the same effect on the body as smoking 15 cigarettes a day. Further, in 2020, individuals 85 years and older have the highest suicide rate of all age groups. With this, challenges in fragmented health care systems, systemic ageism, and lack of integration between Medicare and Medicaid programs have caused roadblocks for older adults in accessing quality health care.
One of the testifying witnesses, Dr. Erin Emery-Tiburcio, suggests through expansion of provider eligibility to allow market rate reimbursement of master’s level counselors to provide mental health services under Medicare, this will permeate care coordination and greater access to mental health services for older adults. During questioning, Senator Mark Kelly highlighted the Mental Health Access Improvement Act as legislation that will close the gaps in Medicare to provide strengthened integration and accessibility of care, as well as provide more services to those in rural and underserved areas.
Further, Dr. Kenneth Rogers provided testimony during the hearing on the challenges of not integrating care and how through expansion of telehealth services, this would provide critical mental health care to older adults. Another testifying witness, Kimberly Williams, emphasized the need for increased training of health care providers specifically trained to treat older adults. As the population of older adults continues to grow, the need to integrate physical and mental health conditions continues.
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