On October 3rd Congress sent legislation to the President that addresses the opioid epidemic in a number of important ways. The SUPPORT For Patients and Communities Act, H.R. 6, includes many new programs and revises existing ones that involve counseling and behavioral health providers. The President is expected to sign the bill. Implementation of the law then moves to the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) and other agencies where regulations will be written to explain the details of the new programs. ACA will provide input on several where counseling is specifically involved. The bill would:
- Create a six-year loan repayment program for treatment professionals in designated Mental Health Professional Shortage Areas (HPSAs) and in counties hit especially hard by drug abuse.
- Remove barriers to accessing Medication-Assisted Treatment (MAT) for opioid use disorders via telemedicine in rural areas.
- Create incentives for students to pursue addiction treatment oriented careers, including counseling, which would increase timely access to treatment for individuals living with addiction.
- Authorize $50 million annually, through 2023, for the Secretary of Education in coordination with the Assistant Secretary for Mental Health and Substance Use, to issue grants to link educational agencies with mental health systems to increase student access to evidence-based trauma support services to help prevent and mitigate trauma that children and youth experience.
- Incentivize behavioral health providers to adopt Electronic Health Records (EHRs)
- Allow behavioral health National Health Service Corps participants to work in schools and other community-based settings, thereby lowering barriers to access care, particularly in rural communities.
- Direct the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) to issue guidance on states’ options for treating and managing beneficiaries’ pain through non-opioid treatment options under Medicaid. ACA would provide input on the regulations.
- Create a demonstration project that would allow Medicare beneficiaries to receive MAT and certain wraparound services at an Opioid Treatment Program (OTP), also known as a methadone clinic. Currently, OTPs are not recognized as Medicare providers, meaning that Medicare beneficiaries receiving MAT at OTPs must pay out-of-pocket. Counseling is specified in the bill as a covered service.
- Create a Trauma-Informed Care Task Force with multiple branches of the federal government. The Task Force would solicit input from stakeholders and provide recommendations for the federal government related to best practices and treatment options for those impacted by trauma.
- Increase authorization for National Child Traumatic Stress Initiative from $46.9 million to $63.9 million through 2023.
- Require HHS to establish Centers of Excellence to support the improvement of professional health training resources related to substance use disorder prevention, treatment, and recovery.
You can find the text of the bill and other information here.