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President Biden’s 2023 Budget Seeks to Transform U.S. Behavioral Healthcare Delivery

President Biden is proposing new, mandatory investments totaling $51.7 billion over 10 years to enhance behavioral healthcare in America in the fiscal year (FY) 2023 budget proposal he released Monday.

Among the budget blueprint’s most notable behavioral health provisions is the president’s request of $697 million for the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) to ensure that 100% of contacts are answered for the new 988 behavioral health crisis hotline that will begin to operate in July. This is an increase of $590 million from what was enacted for fiscal year 2022.

Another significant provision is the president’s proposal for a new, $7.5 billion Mental Health System Transformation Fund through Medicaid to increase access to mental health services through workforce development and service expansion, including the development of non-traditional health delivery sites, the integration of quality mental health and substance use care into primary care settings, and the dissemination of evidence-based practices.

President Biden’s budget also provides an investment of $397 million for the Health Resources and Services Administration’s (HRSA) Behavioral Health Workforce Development Programs, which is $235 million above FY 2022 enacted level. This funding is intended to increase training of new behavioral healthcare providers, including a track for health support workers such as peers and community health workers. The program also places an emphasis on team-based care.

This investment is meant to promote inclusive and equitable behavioral healthcare for youth and focus on the knowledge and understanding of children, adolescents, and youth at risk for a mental health disorder, serious emotional disturbance, or substance use disorder (SUD). The budget also includes increases in primary care training and enhancement and nurse education, practice, and retention to expand behavioral health services into primary care.

The FY 2023 budget provides $4.6 billion for SAMHSA’s mental health activities, an increase of $2.5 billion above the FY 2022 enacted level. These investments would provide a historic investment in the Behavior Health Crisis Services; expand access to crisis services; ensure access to early intervention and prevention services to the nation’s vulnerable populations; and invest in children’s mental health.

NABH is pleased to see President Biden’s budget calls for improving compliance with behavioral health parity standards by requiring plans and issuers to use medical necessity criteria for behavioral health services that are consistent with the criteria developed by not-for-profit medical specialty associations. The proposal would also place limits on the consideration of profit in determinations of medical necessity.

The budget would authorize the secretaries of the U.S. Health and Human Services, Labor, and Treasury Departments to regulate behavioral health network adequacy, and to issue regulations on a standard for parity in reimbursement rates based on the results of comparative analyses submitted by plans and issuers at a cost of $720 million over 10 years.

The budget proposes requiring all plans and issuers to cover three behavioral health visits and three primary care visits each year without charging a copayment, co-insurance or deductible-related fee.  And it would provide $125 million in mandatory funding over five years for grants to states to enforce mental health and SUD parity requirements.  Any funds not expended by states at the end of five fiscal years would remain available to the HHS secretary to make additional mental health parity grants.

It also proposes to eliminate the ability of self-insured non-federal governmental plans to opt out of parity, affording state and municipal employees the same consumer protections that apply to other employees with private health insurance.

In Medicare, the president’s budget would eliminate the 190-day lifetime limit and would require Medicare to cover up to three behavioral health visits per year without cost-sharing.

Also related to the Medicare program, current law requires the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) to terminate psychiatric hospital participation in Medicare after six months of non-compliance with conditions of participation, even if the deficiency does not jeopardize patient health and wellbeing.  This provision does not apply to any other provider category. The president’s proposal would give CMS flexibility to allow a psychiatric hospital to continue receiving Medicare payments when deficiencies are not considered to immediately jeopardize the health and safety of its patients and where the facility is actively working to correct the deficiencies identified in an approved Plan of Correction.  This provision is considered budget-neutral and would not have cost implications.

Among other provisions, the White House budget proposal would also establish a Medicare benefit category for licensed professional counselors and marriage and family therapists that authorizes direct billing and payment under Medicare for these practitioners; remove limits on the scope of services for which Medicare can pay clinical social workers, licensed professional counselors, and marriage and family therapists; and allow these practitioners to bill Medicare directly for their mental health services for covered Part A qualifying Skilled Nursing Facility stays.

And the proposal would ensure that mental health and SUD benefits under Medicare do not face greater limitations on reimbursement or access to care relative to medical and surgical benefits.  The Medicare Payment Advisory Commission (MedPAC) would be required to issue a report to identify existing gaps in mental health and substance use disorder benefits to be addressed in the Medicare statute.

Specifically for SUD, President Biden has proposed $519 million, more than double the 2022 enacted level, for the Family Violence Prevention and Services program. This is the primary federal funding stream dedicated to the support of emergency shelter and related assistance for victims of domestic violence and their children.

The funding represents an increase of $292 million over FY 2022 enacted for the base program’s shelters and supportive services. This funding provides services to an estimated 1.3 million children and families to prevent family violence, domestic violence, and dating violence. This includes $250 million in cash assistance for domestic violence survivors and $30 million for the Safe Recovery Together demonstration grants. The demonstration grants will support families affected by domestic violence at the intersection of substance-use coercion, housing instability, and child welfare involvement.

President Biden’s FY 2023 budget also proposes:

  • $413 million to SAMHSA in FY 2023, and $4.1 billion over 10 years, for community health centers
  • A $238 million increase above the FY 2022 enacted level in funding for Certified Community Behavioral Health Center Expansion Grants
  • An increase in the amount of Mental Health Block Grant funds reserved for crisis intervention services to 10% from 5%
  • An investment of $11.4 billion, including $10.8 billion in discretionary funding, in programs addressing opioids and overdose-related activities across HHS.

After President Biden kicked off the federal budget process on Monday with his budget proposal, Office of Management and Budget Director Shalanda Young testified Tuesday before the House Budget Committee. Director Young will take more questions from the Senate Budget Committee on Wednesday.

Meanwhile, congressional appropriators will begin their work soon, starting with a House Appropriations Committee hearing this Thursday that will feature U.S. Health and Human Services Department (HHS) Secretary Xavier Becerra.

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NABH Analysis: CMS Proposes Expanding Medicare Telehealth Benefits and Scope of Practice Changes Beyond Pandemic

CMS Proposes Expanding Medicare Telehealth Benefits and Scope of Practice Changes Beyond Pandemic

The Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) is proposing to maintain—either permanently or temporarily— many of the Medicare telehealth benefits and workforce flexibilities authorized during the Covid-19 pandemic, according to the fiscal year 2021 Medicare physician fee schedule proposed rule the agency released Monday.

In issuing these proposed changes, CMS referred to President Trump’s Aug. 3 Executive Order on “Improving Rural Health and Telehealth Access” that directs the Health and Human Services secretary to propose regulations to extend flexibilities provided during the Covid-19 public health emergency (PHE) as appropriate.

Proposed Extensions of Medicare Coverage of Telehealth

On a permanent basis, CMS proposes to continue Medicare coverage for these telehealth services authorized during the PHE:

Home visits for the evaluation and management of an established patient: less complex and last typically 25 minutes,
Certain types of visits for patients with cognitive impairments,
Group psychotherapy,
Neurobehavioral status exams,
Care planning for patients with cognitive impairment,
Less complex domiciliary, rest home, or custodial care services, and
Prolonged evaluation and management (E/M) services.

CMS has requested public feedback on other services to add to this list of permanent Medicare-covered, telehealth services.

CMS is also proposing to extend Medicare coverage on a temporary basis for telehealth delivery of the following services until the end of the calendar year when the PHE ends:

Psychological and neuropsychological testing,
Emergency department visits,
Home visits to address moderate to severe issues, typically lasting 60 minutes,
More complex domiciliary, rest home, or custodial care services, and
Nursing facilities discharge day management.

CMS has also requested comments on this list of telehealth services that the agency proposes to cover temporarily in Medicare. CMS said it intends these temporary extensions of coverage to allow time for the agency to consider whether these services should be extended permanently.

In the proposed rule, CMS clarified that licensed clinical social workers, clinical psychologists, (as well as physical therapists, occupational therapists, and speech-language pathologists) can furnish the brief online assessment and management services via telehealth as well as virtual check-ins and remote evaluation services.

In addition, CMS has clarified that telehealth rules do not apply when the beneficiary and the practitioner are in the same location even if audio/video technology assists in providing a service.

CMS has not proposed to continue separate payments for audio-only evaluation and management services beyond the end of the PHE. Instead, the agency has requested comment on whether to develop coding and payment for a service similar to virtual check-in but for a longer unit of time with a higher value. CMS is seeking feedback on duration of services and resources required to furnish this service and also whether Medicare coverage of this audio-only service should be extended temporarily or permanently.

Meanwhile, CMS is proposing to allow direct supervision to be provided using real-time, interactive audio and video technology (excluding telephone that does not also include video) through Dec. 31, 2021. The agency is requesting comments on this proposal, including guardrails that should be in place and risks to patient safety and concerns about waste, fraud, and abuse.

CMS also included a number of clarifications about Medicare coverage for remote physiologic monitoring codes and new payment rates for immunization administration.

Updates to Evaluation and Management Codes

In this proposed rule, CMS has proposed revaluing a number of code sets that rely on or are analogous to E/M visits including psychiatric diagnostic evaluations and psychotherapy services.
CMS has also proposed simplified coding and billing requirements for E/M visits to take effect in January 2021.

Proposed Changes to Scope of Practice Rules and Related Issues

CMS has also proposed changes to allow healthcare professionals to practice up to the top of their professional training and to continue some of the workforce flexibilities allowed during the PHE, including:

Allowing nurse practitioners, clinical nurse specialists, physician assistants, and certified nurse-midwives (instead of only physicians) to supervise others performing diagnostic tests consistent with state law and licensure, providing that they maintain the required relationships with supervising/collaborating physicians as required by state law,
Clarifying that physicians and nonphysician practitioners, including therapists, can review and verify documentation entered into the medical record by members of the medical team for their own services that are paid under the Medicare physician fee schedule,
  • Accordingly, in the inpatient psychiatric facility prospective payment system final rule issued July 31, CMS also confirmed as final, changes to the special conditions of participation rules for psychiatric facilities allowing non-physician practitioners, or advanced practice providers (including physicians assistants, nurse practitioners, psychologists, and clinical nurse specialists) to document progress notes in accordance with state laws and scope-of-practice requirements.
Clarifying that therapy students, and students of other disciplines, working under a physician or practitioner who furnishes and bills directly for their professional services to the Medicare program, may document in the record so long as it is reviewed and verified (signed and dated) by the billing physician, practitioner, or therapist, and
Requesting comment on whether to continue temporarily or permanently Medicare coverage for services of residents that are provided outside of the scope of their approved GME programs and furnished to inpatients of a hospital in which they have their training program as separately billable physicians’ services.

Proposed Changes to Opioid Treatment Program Benefit

CMS has proposed making several changes to claiming rules and payment codes for the new Medicare Part B benefit for opioid use disorder services, including medications and services furnished by opioid treatment programs. Of note, add-on codes for nasal naloxone and auto-injector naloxone are proposed along with clarification on periodic assessment add-on code requirements.

SUD Screening in Medicare Initial and Wellness Visits

CMS is implementing a new requirement that the Medicare Initial Preventive Physical Examination and Annual Wellness Visit include screening of beneficiaries for potential substance use disorders, including a review of any current opioid prescriptions, as well as referral for specialty treatment, as appropriate. This new requirement was enacted in the SUPPORT Act.

Electronic Prescribing of Controlled Substances

CMS said it is implementing another SUPPORT Act provision that requires prescriptions of Schedule II, III, IV, or V controlled substances for Medicare Part D beneficiaries to be electronic. CMS issued a request for information on July 30 requesting feedback on whether to include exceptions to this requirement and whether CMS should impose penalties.

Public comments on this proposed rule are due by Monday, Oct. 5.

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