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Thune, Brown, Cardin Introduce Legislation to Expand Access to Mental Health Services

Senators’ bipartisan legislation would promote mental health services for kids and underserved populations

April 7, 2022

U.S. Sens. John Thune (R-S.D.), Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio), and Ben Cardin (D-Md.), members of the Senate Finance Committee, which has jurisdiction over Medicaid and the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP), today introduced the Medicaid Ensuring Necessary Telehealth is Available Long-term (MENTAL) Health for Kids and Underserved Act. This bipartisan legislation would direct the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) to issue guidance to states on options to increase access to behavioral health services and treatment via telehealth for children and underserved Americans. 

“I have heard from parents, teachers, and health care providers in South Dakota that children are in need of behavioral health services now more than ever due to the disruptions to life caused by the pandemic,” said Thune. “That’s why I’m introducing this bipartisan bill, which would expand access to behavioral health services for children in school-based settings and for underserved Americans who are facing mental health challenges.”  

“As a result of the pandemic, kids across the country – especially those in underserved communities – have faced major disruptions to their educational and behavioral development, and schools have not had the resources they need,” said Brown. “We need to expand behavioral telehealth options for students, and this is one commonsense, bipartisan step to do that.” 

“The pandemic has shined a light on the behavioral health crisis our nation has long faced,” said Cardin. “I will always fight to ensure adequate access to behavioral healthcare, and this bipartisan bill will provide states with the resources necessary to expand behavioral telehealth services, specifically for school-aged children and underserved communities. As we continue to see the mental and behavioral health impacts of the pandemic, it is essential we continue to take steps to increase access to care.”

The MENTAL Health for Kids and Underserved Act would require CMS to provide guidance to states on how they can increase access to mental and behavioral health services and treatment via telehealth under Medicaid and CHIP. Additionally, it would request guidance on how states can furnish behavioral services and treatments in school-based settings and best practices for integration. The bill focuses on those most at risk including underserved Americans and school-aged children.