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New Medicare Law Removes Barriers to Mental Health Treatment

WASHINGTON, July 10 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ -- The National Council for Community Behavioral Healthcare applauds Congress for passing legislation to improve Medicare benefits for persons with mental illness.

Yesterday the Senate approved, with overwhelming bipartisan support, a bill that will phase out Medicare's higher copays for mental health services, bringing them in line with copays for physical healthcare services. Since its inception in 1965, Medicare has required 50 percent copay for mental health services, compared to 20 percent for other healthcare services.

The Senate passed the Medicare legislation by a veto-proof 69-30 margin, after House approval on June 24 by a 355-59 vote.

"The National Council has advocated long and hard to end Medicare's discrimination against mental health," said Linda Rosenberg, MSW, President and CEO of the National Council. "Congress has taken a major step forward in ensuring better access to care for millions of America's senior citizens who experience debilitating mental illnesses but cannot afford the exorbitant copays for the screening and treatment they need."

It is estimated that only half of older adults with mental health problems receive treatment, according to an Administration on Aging 2001 report. Due to Medicare's cost barriers, expensive inpatient services are used more often than outpatient services to treat mental health conditions among the elderly.

National Council advocacy resulted in the inclusion of a provision in the Medicare bill to expand access to mental healthcare in rural America by making Community Mental Health Centers eligible to participate in the Medicare telehealth program.

"Telehealth helps to make mental health services available in remote areas where people have little or no access to specialty care of any sort," said Charles Ingoglia, Vice President, Public Policy at the National Council. "The new Medicare provisions will make an important contribution to expanding mental healthcare in America."

The historic Medicare bill also rescinds sharp cuts in Medicare payments to physicians to help ensure that seniors are not denied care due to inadequate reimbursement for their doctors. In addition, it improves the Part D prescription drug benefit by limiting out-of-pockets costs for dual eligibles -- individuals who are eligible for both the Medicare and Medicaid programs. The bill includes provisions to ensure that mental health medications continue to be available to these vulnerable beneficiaries.

The National Council for Community Behavioral Healthcare is a not-for-profit, 501(c)(3) association of 1,400 behavioral healthcare organizations. Member organizations provide treatment and rehabilitation services for mental illnesses and addictions disorders to nearly six million adults, children and families in communities across the country.

To interview national experts on Medicare and other public funding for the treatment of mental illness, contact Meena Dayak at or 301.984.6200, ext. 228

SOURCE National Council for Community Behavioral Healthcare
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