Luján Introduces Legislation Leveraging Telehealth To Combat Opioid Epidemic

U.S. Rep. Ben Ray Luján
WASHINGTON, D.C. U.S. Rep. Ben Ray Luján (D-NM) introduced the Medicaid Substance Use Disorder Treatment via Telehealth Act, which would provide states with options to leverage telehealth to increase services and treatment for Medicaid patients.
Similar legislation authored by Senator Carper was included in the Senate opioid package, the Opioid Crisis Response Act, as section 2203. The House version introduced by Luján contains additional language that focuses on treatment for individuals with co-occurring serious mental illness and substance use disorder.
“If we are going to combat the opioid epidemic in this country, we need to close the treatment gap,” Luján said. “Leveraging telehealth is one commonsense way we can increase people’s access to care as we work to grow the number of treatment facilities in rural and underserved areas. This legislation provides tools to states like New Mexico so they can expand treatment for Medicaid beneficiaries. It’s one step in a number of comprehensive actions Congress needs to take so that more families get the care they need and deserve.”
Specifically, the Medicaid Substance Use Disorder Treatment via Telehealth Act:
  • Directs CMS to issue guidance to states on options for providing services via telehealth that address substance use disorders under Medicaid.
  • Directs GAO to evaluate children’s access to Medicaid services to treat substance use disorders, including options to improve access through telehealth.
  • Directs CMS to issue a report to Congress identifying best practices and potential solutions to barriers to furnishing services to children via telehealth to compare services delivered via telehealth to in-person.
A number of organizations have expressed their support for this legislation including:
Executive Director Terry Boulanger of New Mexico Telehealth Alliance:
“Our country is rapidly approaching a crisis of care for our citizens in rural areas. The shortage of doctors and other healthcare workers and the cost to deliver services in rural areas has made quality care almost unattainable in these areas. Medical and telecommunications technology have finally reach a point where we can affordably fill many of the healthcare gaps with the technology. What is now needed is the guidance and involvement of our federal healthcare agencies in adoption of telehealth technologies and health information exchanges.”
Nancy Rodriguez, Executive Director of New Mexico Alliance for School-Based Health Care:
“The New Mexico Alliance for School-Based Health Care is grateful for Congressman Ben Ray Luján’s recognition of the value of school-based health centers and telehealth in the battle to treat substance abuse. The trauma that New Mexican children are experiencing as a result of the opioid crisis is overwhelming, but school-based health centers and the experts they can access via telehealth are the most efficient healthcare delivery system to support families with the treatment they need. Medicaid reimbursement is essential to school-based health centers’ ability to provide these critical services.”
In a letter of support, Maggie McCowen, Executive Director of New Mexico Behavioral Health Providers’ Association, said, “Having strong Medicaid support of telehealth substance use treatment, particularly for young people, would be a tremendous step forward in improving access to care, reducing the cost of substance use treatment, and strengthening local communities in their efforts to curb our current substance use epidemic.”
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