APA President Testifies Before U.S. House Committee on Energy & Commerce on Mental Health During COVID-19 Pandemic

WASHINGTON, D.C., June 30, 2020 – The American Psychiatric Association (APA) today urged Congress to take several measures to curb the mental health impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, including a continuance of expanded telehealth rules, the enforcement of the parity law that requires insurers to cover mental health the same as physical health, as well as the collection and analysis of detailed data on the racial disparities in the mental health effects of COVID-19.

APA President Jeffrey Geller, M.D., M.P.H., made these recommendations today during testimony before the U.S. House Committee on Energy & Commerce’s Subcommittee on Health. The virtual hearing, titled "High Anxiety and Stress: Legislation to Improve Mental Health During Crisis," addressed more than 20 pieces of legislation pending before Congress on mental health during the COVID-19 pandemic.

In his prepared testimony, Geller noted that: “Americans are now grappling with one of the worst unemployment rates in recent history, added to social isolation in order to comply with physical distancing recommendations and topped off with the unfolding communal unrest regarding systemic racism and police brutality.”

Geller offered APA’s support to legislation that would:

  • require the Department of Health and Human Services to collect, analyze, and make publicly available data on race and ethnicity related to the testing availability and related morbidity results, hospitalization, and mortality associated with COVID-19;
  • strengthen the enforcement of mental health parity by requiring federally regulated health plans to analyze and demonstrate their compliance by submitting clear reports to the Department of Labor;
  • extend the current waiver authority passed by Congress for telehealth for at least a year after the end of the public health emergency declaration, and study the results of this rapid shift from in-person mental health services to telepsychiatry;
  • strengthen Congressional efforts to prevent suicide, including, among other provisions, improvements to school-based student suicide prevention;
  • ensure that patients who present in the emergency room with suicidal ideation or having attempted suicide are appropriately screened and referred to the appropriate mental health treatment to minimize the potential for post-discharge suicide attempts; and
  • boost resources for call centers, 27/4 mobile crisis units and crisis stabilization programs, to provide quick, appropriate care for those experiencing suicidal ideation and other mental health crises, while reducing emergency room boarding and unnecessary criminal justice system encounters.

Geller also expressed the APA’s opposition to H.R. 884, an act that would add psychologists to the Medicare definition of “physician.” He expressed his support for psychology, but noted that: “At a time when we know that high quality care is best provided by a team of professionals working together to provide coordinated services for patients with chronic illnesses, this legislation would do the opposite of stated intentions and further fragment care by creating unnecessary and dangerous silos between all health care providers who should be working collaboratively.”

“I am grateful that the Energy and Commerce Health Subcommittee offered me the opportunity to testify today,” Geller said. “Congress’s continued attention to this issue is essential as the country faces the so-called ‘second-wave’ of the pandemic: mental illness.”

Geller was joined in the hearing by former Representative Patrick J. Kennedy, founder of The Kennedy Forum; Arthur C. Evans, Jr., Ph.D., Chief Executive Officer of the American Psychological Association; and Arriana Gross, National Youth Advisory Board Member of the Sandy Hook Promise Students Against Violence Everywhere Promise Club.

APA CEO and Medical Director Saul Levin, M.D., M.P.A., added that the APA is ready to work with members of both parties to pass meaningful mental health legislation. “We urge the House and the Senate to take up the many bipartisan, uncontroversial recommendations as quickly as possible to help our nation confront the mental health fallout of COVID-19.”

American Psychiatric Association

The American Psychiatric Association, founded in 1844, is the oldest medical association in the country. The APA is also the largest psychiatric association in the world with more than 38,800 physician members specializing in the diagnosis, treatment, prevention and research of mental illnesses. APA’s vision is to ensure access to quality psychiatric diagnosis and treatment. For more information please visit www.psychiatry.org.

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